So I am starting to construct a professional sabbatical for 2015. There is a grant application to work on in concert with the congregation - and I have started to identify some of the people from church I want to help me make this work best for all involved. Here's the broad outline as defined by the Lily Foundation for Clergy Renewal. A sabbatical is intended to be a way to:
Strengthen Christian congregations by providing an opportunity for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. Renewal periods are not vacations, but times for intentional exploration and reflection, for drinking again from God's life-giving waters, for regaining enthusiasm and creativity for ministry.
Both renewal and reflection are essential in this line of work and especially so in a culture that is simultaneously overly busy and constantly in pursuit of bottom line metrics. It is all too easy to get caught up in the rush and lose the vision that is essential for ministry. Eugene Peterson once put it like this: "Century after century, Christians continue to take certain persons in their communities, set them apart and say to them, 'You are our shepherd. Lead us to Christlikeness.'" He goes on:
We want yo to be responsible for saying and acting among us what we believe about God and kingdom and gospel. We believe that the Holy Spirit is among us and within us... We believe that the invisible is more important than the visible at any one single moment and in any single event that we choose to examine. We believe that everything - especially everything that looks like wreckage - is material God is using to make a praising life. We believe this, but we don't see it... so we have ordained you to this ministry and we want you to stick to it. (The Contemplative Pastor)
In order to stay focused and grounded, our tradition has created times set aside for renewal and reflection. Part of the renewal involves rest - not like in a vacation - but a deeper change in the rhythm of each day. Sleep, prayer, study and exercise are a key part of the renewal aspect of a pastor's sabbatical. One part of my proposal, therefore, will be to get away - far away - from my routine and take up a three month residence in Montreal. On both the front and back end of this time I would be in a monastic setting as well as travel to a few centers that practice jazz liturgy.
The second part of the sabbatical involves renewal. It is my plan to spend time each day in study and prayer re: the liturgy of the hours and the practice of jazz vespers. Another part of each day would be study and practice on the upright bass. Not only would this nourish another part of my brain, it would bring a deep sense of rest to my soul.
My council has endorsed the broad outline of this proposal. Over the summer we will study and pray to understand how we might prepare for this in the best way and then complete our formal proposal by Advent. In the meantime, I am using this summer to retool my music reading/theory skills and find a local teacher to take me deeper in my appreciation and playing of the upright bass.
My hope and prayer is that in addition to the rest, renewal and reflection of the sabbatical, I will have also written four liturgies to honor God's presence in each of the four seasons in a "jazz vespers" style. We would then secure a top notch group of local jazz musicians and share it with the wider community. There is much, much more to do in preparation, but that's the broad outline. It is going to be a fun 18 months getting ready.
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