A family business bulletin: As of tomorrow ( Tuesday, 5/9/2017 ), I will be stepping away from my usual daily/weekly duties with The Commons for a 4-week period of Sabbatical leave.
Yes, if you didn't happen to be at "Gathering" yesterday, then this may come as a bit of a surprise! Therefore, a note to explain how we arrived here, and an invitation for your partnership in prayer:
First, an "Unexpected Opportunity":
On a bit of a whim some months back I submitted an application for a pastoral retreat grant advertised by the national office of the ECC, and just recently learned that I have had the blessing of being one of ten pastors, nation-wide, to have been accepted for this particular opportunity. Pretty neat, really! This effectively means that the denomination has offered to foot the expenses for me to attend a 5 day guided pastor's retreat at a center in Alberta, Canada in early June.
This retreat will be hosted by the King’s Fold Retreat & Renewal Centre, in Cochrane, AB, from June 5-9, and after a period of conversation with our elders, I have planned to gratefully accept this offer.
Which inspired a more 'ambitious' plan:
As part of the application process for this retreat, I was asked to spell out what structures and rhythms for pastoral "self care" I currently have in place, which provided an opportunity for some strategic reflection.
Altogether, on a "micro", day-in, day-out level, I do feel that my margins, family and self-care, and sabbath disciplines are in a healthy place, for which I am profoundly grateful! As we have discussed periodically over these last months, the past year has been one of unparalleled spiritual/pastoral "severity" on a number of levels, but from a place of spiritual health, this has proven a deepening/maturing season, rather than a destructive one. In hindsight, the sense of conviction from nearly a year ago, that continuing in a bi-vocational capacity was no longer wise/tenable for the season ahead, was most surely given by the Spirit as a word of preparation for the year that it has been. Again, for this I am grateful.
At the “macro”, multi-year level of self-care planning and rhythms, there have remained some open questions. At a gathering of planters and pastors about this time last year, it was suggested to me by another, established founding pastor that a good model of sabbatical rhythm involves planning for a one-month "micro-sabbatical" at three years, with a proper 3+ month sabbatical at seven years, continuing in rhythm for the duration of ministry in a given context. This struck me as healthy, and wise, at the time I heard it. In applying for this retreat grant, and offering that model as one I might aspire to for my own self-care, it did not escape me that we, ourselves, have recently completed our third year in this planting/founding endeavor.
Which raised the question: was this aspirational, intentional rhythm something I was merely willing to affirm in theory, or one that I would attempt to follow through on in actual practice? My conviction, in prayerfully discerning these past weeks, is that I ought to be faithful to follow through. Not because I’m “burned out”, overly tired or have an overwhelming need to “get away”, at this point, but because it is wise.
As such, as elders we prayerfully weighed this proposal: that I might at this time be able to set aside May 9th-June 9th as a micro-sabbatical opportunity. While too near and too short to be overly “ambitious” with my aims, with a little bit of planning, we believe this will be a fruitful and meaningful commitment.
For clarity: in establishing these weeks as “sabbatical”, we mean something different from “vacation” or “time off”. A sabbatical is an intentional season for a different manner of work for a pastor; namely interior, restorative, soul-care work. By setting these weeks aside, we are agreeing to free me from the majority of my standing/regular obligations, such that I might be set free for a season to address this OTHER mode of ministry work, which far too often simply goes undone.
And, as we discussed at Gathering, yesterday, the season before us as a community simply promises to be too important for this foundational work to go undone in me. We are on the verge of an unprecedented expansion of our vision for community engagement and tangible presence. The coming seasons promise buildings to be rehabbed, business models to be launched, and systems and structures for tangible neighborhood transformation to be constructed and funded. ( You never know WHAT you may miss when you oversleep on a Sunday morning, eh? ) Altogether, the Holy Spirit is intimating to us that the next several years will require much of us; and, as a pastor, much of me. All the while in some ways, passing into our fourth year on this church planting journey, we feel more fragile than we have in recent memory. Yet, the vision and sense of the Spirit's moving has never been larger or stronger. A paradox, perhaps, yet so very like our God!
So, for the next four weeks, I will endeavor to "unplug", to create intentional space of quiet, wherein I might find my strength and conviction renewed for the years ahead. I covet your prayers for me, and your ongoing investment in the life of our church during this time! Our rhythms of Table and Gathering will go on as they always do; our Elders/Table leaders will remain available to engage the pastoral concerns which may emerge, and will work together to cover the teaching/preaching. Far from an opportunity to "check out", these weeks offer an invitation for all of us, bound together in this "tribe of grace" that we call The Commons, to reassess and recommit to the community and mission that we have been drawn into together over these last three years. I pray that I may return to find our community all the stronger and more resolved in spirit for having pressed into this sabbatical season, together.
And so, I pray for you all, over these weeks:
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storms.
May he bring you home rejoicing at
the wonders he has shown you;
May he bring you home rejoicing,
once again into our doors.
In Christ, with you.