NOW we can be officially public...

Ok, now that the Christian Theological Seminary in Indiana has officially announced the 2014 Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal grants, I can finally be totally public with our plans for 2015. WE ARE GOING TO MONTREAL! (read the official press release here: 16/christian-theological-seminary-announces-140-congregations-awarded-lilly-endowment-2014-national-clergy-renewal-program-grants) There are four broad aspects of this sabbatical plan and each is as exciting as the other.
+ First, this is a CLERGY renewal grant. It has a congregational component to it - and that is a vital part - but the heart of the grant recognizes that not only has the meaning of being a clergy changed in the 21st century, but the demands of this calling are 24/7. It is by no means the hardest job in the world, but it is unique in the multifaceted nature of its commitment - and therein lies the need for renewal. The Lilly Foundation has discerned - and the research verifies - that clergy burnout and depression is at an all-time high. So, they ask a simple but vexing question:  what makes your heart sing? Answering that in a programmatic fashion, with assistance from a team of lay people, took the better part of 9 months to write. Not only is it hard to draft consensus when working with 8 additional co-editors, it requires a great deal of conversation, prayer, trust-building and time to craft a document that has both a measure of poetry as well as passion. That meant that first I had to be rock solid in what I wanted and needed for this sabbatical because for perhaps the first time in my ministry: this IS mostly about me.

+ Second, before we could complete the congregational sabbatical plan,
we had to explore and enrich my presenting proposal. The answer to the question, "What makes your heart sing?" involved music and liturgy. All of my life I have been playing with this art form. It began in high school when we would draft "youth services" based upon contemporary rock songs that cracked open passages of Scripture and continues today as we revision the Good Friday liturgies for the 21st century. But what about music and liturgy would be so radically different - and enriching - that the Lilly Foundation would pay for me to do it? With some serious soul-searching and conversation, I zeroed-in on a plan for me to strengthen my upright bass playing as the heart of my sabbatical. The thought of devoting serious time each day for practice and performance - with special emphasis on jazz - was liberating, so that became the core of our proposal. And just to make it exquisite, we proposed a residency in Montreal. I LOVE that city - and it is home to the Montreal Jazz Festival, too. To make this holistic, we built in a commitment to regular prayer, rest and exercise as I know I need this to be a time of renewal for heart, soul and flesh.

+ Third, the Lilly folk have enough experience in clergy sabbaticals by now to insist upon maximum time away as well as transition time on both ends of the journey. All of the study literature about clergy sabbaticals are clear: four months is always better than three even though congregations get antsy with longer sabbaticals. So once we came to agreement on the four month commitment, the front and back end transitions needed attention - and that's where the singing heart question helped again. Another of my favorite things in the world to do is take meandering road trips with Di and simply explore new places together. I am fascinated by the stories people tell me along the way. And after reading William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways I became a believer. So that is the third part of this sabbatical. After a farewell liturgy in late April 2015, we will rent a car and visit three jazz liturgy centers - NYC, Nashville and Ann Arbor - and we'll take it slow in-between destinations to rest and watch and see what the Spirit is saying to our souls. On the back end of our 3+ months in Montreal, we will wander back to the USA via the Eastern Townships of Quebec - a rural wonderland of small towns, wineries and art centers - before resuming responsibility at church in mid-September 2015.

+ And fourth, the Lilly people insist on not only planning the clergy part of the sabbatical in cooperation with key lay leaders, but also building in a bit of sabbatical experience for the congregation. As I have heard it said, most congregations celebrate their clergy's sabbatical but simultaneously dread them, too. Many of my key leaders have told me, "We loved it when the pastor had a time for rest and reflection, but we barely hung on by our finger nails and ached for his return." So that both pastor and congregation make the best use of this sabbatical, a "church sabbatical" must be part of each proposal. What will the congregation do that enriches what the pastor is exploring in his/her absence so that everyone takes a sacred break? We have discerned a few broad areas - jazz education, encounters with local artists during worship and hands-on creativity workshops - and will spend the next three months nailing down the details. This, too, is done collaboratively and takes a lot of time and conversation as well as a ton of prayerful discernment. We now have a new planning team in place for this part of the sabbatical and I pray God's guidance for us all.
At the end of this summer, Di and I took another quick trip to Montreal to look for potential housing and make arrangements to rent an instrument rather than carry my upright bass (as well as guitars, amps and Lucie) northward. It was a successful outing so at the end of May 2015 we'll take up residence in the eastern part of Montreal's Plateau neighborhood. It is young, filled with families and children, ethnically and economically diverse and very Francophone. One of my hopes is that both Di and I will grow in our ability to speak (and sometimes think) in Quebecois French. Nous verrons! 

Two closing thoughts: a LOT of people worked hard on this grant proposal. And while it was mine in concept, it took a disciplined team to craft it. Then there was another dedicated crew of people who worked vigorously in the closing months to edit this proposal so that the foundation would read and act upon it. This was truly a team effort. To be sure, we all made some whopping big mistakes along the way. But we also cooperated in ways that have strengthened the leadership of the church. I am profoundly grateful to everyone who was a part of the process. Thankfully, there were no prima donnas on this team - it was truly an act of living as the body of Christ. A HUGE debt of gratitude to: Dianne, Jon, David, Scott, Holly, Carlton, Dana, Chris, Liz, Martha, James, Ashley, Renee and Sue!

The other thought is that one of the unique blessings of the Lilly Grant is that it gives seasoned pastors a break for renewal. As the US population both ages and goes into a new baby boom, a great deal of aging Boomers are returning to worship along with this new generation of young adults. Both groups have little to no experience with church but posses profound spiritual questions and needs. There is some value in keeping some of the elders around and active in ministry during this unique season of transition - and I am excited to be a part of it all. Without this time to step away from the daily hustle, I know that my weariness would prevail. This past year was particularly taxing mostly because I bumped up against a ton of buried grief that just wore me out. Having spent some time in that hard place, however, I am ready now to go deeper into the challenge of being a faithful congregation for this generation. And the sabbatical - both the promise and the eventual reality - has become another encounter with faith, hope and love. En route pour MontrĂ©al!


Peter said…
RJ said…
And THAT makes heading up to Thunder Bay a total reality, my man!
Judith said…
Bienvenue a Montreal, mon vieux!

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