Word of the Week: SABBATICAL
It was the end of an incredibly busy and emotionally draining weekend. I had a Monday evening obligation to lead a board meeting for an organization where I serve in the community, but I was tired. However, my “can do” spirit said to just keep going. The Executive Director of this organization sent me a text message just to check-in, knowing that I’d had a full weekend. When I said I still planned to come to the evening meeting she offered an alternative plan. She would have the Vice President lead instead of me and arranged the details. What followed was a one-word text message. That word was “REST.”
Why is it that we, at times, need permission to take leave or to rest? For many, it is a strong work ethic, which is well and good, but can also make for burnout or bitterness when there is too much to do or a need to control outcomes. Why do we convince ourselves that we are irreplaceable when there can be support in place to help shoulder responsibilities for organizations? For many, it is loyalty, which again is well and good, but can also shut out others who have gifts to share and are willing to help.
In God’s infinite wisdom, the design of creation included space and priority for rest. In Genesis we learn “. . . on the seventh day God finished the work . . . blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that had been done in creation.” (Genesis 2:2–3) In our weekly rhythm of life, God intends for the inclusion of rest and sabbath time. He further emphasizes the importance of rest by including it as the third commandment, “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) Therefore, the sabbath rest of worship is to be a priority in the life of God’s people.
The word “sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word, “Shabbat,” which refers to the day set aside for rest. The Jewish tradition of “Shabbat” is observed from sundown on Friday until the appearance of stars in the sky on Saturday night. It is an intentional pause from the weekly routine so that space may be made for worship alongside intentional rest. Christian traditions of sabbath rest relate to Sundays being a time of rest and worship as it is understood to be the day attributed to the resurrection of Christ.
Related to this, the idea of a sabbatical comes from this understanding of the importance of rest for clergy. Sabbaticals are not exclusive to the ministry, as educators are often granted sabbatical time, but for clergy, it provides space to recharge and renew in their call to care for and lead congregations.
Bethel has a history of granting sabbaticals to their called pastoral staff. Most recently Pastor Burggraff (2018) and Pastor Wahl (2019) were granted sabbaticals. I was last able to experience sabbatical in 2016. The opportunity for sabbatical is made available every 7 years in ministry at Bethel. Mindful of this, when a sabbatical is requested, there is a time for the congregation to prepare for the pastor’s time away.
I am excited to share that this past January 2022, Bethel Church Council approved a sabbatical for me from July to September 2023. (Important to note the year!) A team of Bethel members has formed to apply for a grant offered by the Lilly Endowment National Clergy Renewal Program. The purpose of this grant is as follows:
The Lilly Endowment National Clergy Renewal Program at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) seeks to strengthen Christian congregations by providing opportunities 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 regaining the enthusiasm and creativity for ministry, for discovering what will make the pastor’s heart sing.
Working alongside the sabbatical team, I am crafting a sabbatical that answers the question of what would make my “heart sing.” I have chosen the theme, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28). The sabbatical time will pair my time away with renewal and reflection opportunities for the entire congregation.
I am so grateful for those serving on the 2023 Sabbatical Team. They are Greg Heetland (Bethel Council President), Marissa Guggisberg (Council Vice President 2020–2022), Pat Eichhorst (Devotional Team Chair), Bruce Remme (Endowment Team Chair), Karen Hartman (Personnel Team), and Terra O’Brien (Bethel Business Administrator). This grant application is due in late April and notifications of recipients will occur in the fall of 2022. Whether or not the grant is awarded, the Church Council is still committed to offering the sabbatical time to me in 2023. This grant offers a great opportunity, and we are excited for the possibilities!
REST. A one-word reminder to intentionally pause. Sabbath time is yours each weekend at Bethel (or online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Making time for the things that “make your heart sing” is a biblical calling. I encourage you, and give you permission, to listen to the importance of rest in your own life, too. It is a gift.
Graced by the Gospel,