I am tired. This simple fact has been difficult for me to honest about because it has long felt selfish to focus on taking care of myself. It is a quirk of my personality that I find it easier to take care of others than to take care of myself. This tendency is usually a strength in ministry as I am professionally called upon week after week, day after day, to help others with a range of needs – from all things spiritual to the folks who knock on the pastor’s door every week asking for food and gas money. However, as my colleague so helpfully pointed out, taking care of myself is part of the work of taking care of others and taking care of the church. Faith Lutheran Church deserves a pastor who will do the healthy thing and take care of himself (or herself). There are many instances of pastors dealing with their need for rest in unhealthy and toxic ways. It is far more common than you might expect for pastors to turn bitter and angry against their members when they are not given space and time to seek rest and renewal. Other pastors descend into various forms of addiction. Others break the congregation’s trust by seeking affairs or other acts of sexual misconduct with members who are not their spouse. Others dwindle and die on the vine, metaphorically speaking, if their congregations do not give them space to recuperate and seek faithful renewal as servants of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ministry is difficult and tiring and there are better and worse ways for churches to deal with the difficulty and exhaustion of ministry that weighs on pastors. By moving to adopt a sabbatical policy and supporting me in my need to step away from my regular duties for a few months is the better way.
An intentional, pastoral sabbatical is a new thing for our congregation (at least to my knowledge) and I expect that it will take time for some of us to understand its full benefit. To some, this time may seem more like a perk than a necessity, more of a vacation than a time of spiritual rest and renewal. For my first few years of ministry, I must admit that I used to think that it was kind of whiny and weak for pastors to say they needed time away. Yet, after years of being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, barely getting even a full day off a week for months on end, having been stretched and pushed to adapt centuries of church practice to try to meet rapidly changing realities, and having helped lead a great number of projects around the church and parsonage to get things back on track after years of neglect, I have come to realize that pastoral work is uniquely exhausting in ways that should be dealt with differently than other jobs. While pastors have far more freedom in our schedules than other careers, it is hard to describe how difficult it is to be constantly at the ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice and show up when others need us. While this is an important part of the job, it also wears on ministers over time in ways that are hard to see or understand from the outside.
So, this month, on Tuesday, May 11th, I will begin an intentional sabbatical period of rest from my regular pastoral duties. I will not be leading worship, funerals, or weddings, I will be unavailable for visits, I will not be attending committee meetings, I will not be responding to emails, calls, or texts, and I will not be holding office hours. My work for this period will be to focus on taking care of myself so that I may be in the best shape possible come Thursday, August 12th when I return to my regular pastoral work. We have arranged for other preachers to fill in throughout my absence and have trained members to run the camera so our online worship can continue while I am gone. Our retired pastor, Rev. Carl Rohr, has agreed to do pastoral visits if members end up in the hospital or have other emergencies, and Cheri Rowbury has agreed to be a back-up preacher to make sure that Sunday services can happen as planned, even if the scheduled preacher falls through. Some have asked if my family and I will be traveling for the full duration of my sabbatical. The short answer is no. While we will take several trips (and finally get to spend weekends together as a family!), we will be in and out of Ronan throughout the summer. Jen will still be working for most of my time away and the kids will need someone to watch them, so I guess they are stuck with me. Additionally, Freja will be having surgery in June, so part of our sabbatical journey will be comforting her through that. We welcome your prayers for her well-being, too! I am sure you will see me around town with a degree of regularity (Ronan is not very big, after all!), and I ask you not to be offended if I do not stop and chat as much as I normally do. Additionally, if you see things are not getting done around the church like normal, (difficulties with the online service, the grass is not getting cut, things start piling up at the church, etc.) it is most likely that I have been taking care of those things behind the scenes. Feel free to jump in to make sure things get done while I am away from the office as you see a need.
Though I am tired, I will miss seeing you all every week. Please know that my need for a period of rest and renewal is not a failure of the church but a fulfillment of Christ’s model for ministry. After many of Jesus’ miracles – after he fed thousands, after he healed people, and even after he cast out demons - he would go off by himself to pray. Often times, the disciples were eager to get back out there and have their leader do more, preach more, heal more, (all good things!) but Jesus knew better. He modeled the healthiest leadership possible by retreating up into the mountains to pray. I intend to do the same and appreciate your support while I do so.