Frequently Asked Questions About Sabbatical
What is sabbatical?
How is it “required?”
First, it’s part of our ethos in the Episcopal Church. We know that clergy who incorporate sabbatical into their long-term spiritual development tend to last longer and experience less burn out. Second, it’s contractual. In our diocese, we are all required to do it, even the Bishop. (Interestingly, his sabbatical will coincide with mine since we’ve both been serving our current posts the same amount of time.) Since the day I arrived in 2009, 2016 was always going to be my sabbatical year.
How long does sabbatical last?
Three months. (Two weeks are accrued for every year served, up to seven years.)
So, is this just vacation?
No. Unfortunately many people—including other priests—have wrongly used the word sabbatical when they really meant vacation. Vacation is playtime. It’s beaches, roller coasters, swimming pools, and sleeping in. Sabbatical is work . . . spiritual work, yes, but hard work nonetheless.
Why is it necessary?
It’s good for both the parish and the priest.
It’s good for the parish in that it gives them a chance to reorient, to reprioritize, to renew their commitments. It reminds them that not everything depends upon the priest. St. Anne’s true strength has always been its members. Sabbatical reinforces that.
It’s good for the priest for similar reasons. Certain vocations–priests, therapists, judges, doctors, funeral directors–bring with them a kind of weight that accumulates over time. Helping people through their most vulnerable moments; being trusted with people’s darkest secrets; assisting families through their dysfunctions; continually burying the people you love; and beating the drum of peace and joy all along the way . . . it gets to be a lot. Sabbatical gives priests a season of respite from that weight, and it reminds them that not everything depends upon them.
How is sabbatical paid for?
St. Anne’s is a wise parish and, since day one, has set aside a small percentage of my package every month as a sabbatical reserve. This reserve pays not only for the my sabbatical plans, but also for any special projects the congregation might like to undertake during the sabbatical. A similar reserve is kept for Rev. Ellen, our Assistant Rector.
Where will you go?
In May I will go to Ignatius House, a Jesuit retreat center in Atlanta. In June and July, I will be at a cabin in Pine Mountain, Georgia.
What will you do at Ignatius House?
At Ignatius House I will undertake the 30 day Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. Invented by St. Ignatius (the founder of the Jesuits) in the 1500’s, the Spiritual Exercises are an intense program of meditations, prayers, and contemplative practices, a sort of “spiritual boot camp” focused on finding the Lord Jesus in everyday life. I will meet daily with a Jesuit priest who will serve as my spiritual director, but otherwise I will be under a vow of silence. Learn more about the Spiritual Exercises.
What will you do in Pine Mountain?
In Pine Mountain I will continue my vow of silence for June and July, and I will seek to live more fully into what I learned from the Spiritual Exercises. For me, silence is the key: no phone, no TV, no texting, no computer, no internet, no conversation, no reading (except a bit from the Bible each morning and evening).
So, are you just going to sit there?
No, I’ll be active. I’ll hike, explore, pray, play with my dog, commune with God, cook, and rest. But I’ll be silent. Like the hermits and desert fathers of the early Church, I feel called to detox from the clamor and clangor of the world, to spend my time in seclusion with the Lord Jesus Christ, and to listen for what he has to say to me on the other side of silence without trying to create or produce anything. To me, this is a simple proposition, but some of my clergy friends say it’s the most daunting sabbatical plan they’ve ever heard. We’ll see.
What about your wife and children?
For the most part Jay and the girls will be busy with family, travel, and work while I’m away. Jay couldn’t really leave her job for three whole months, which is why we as a family decided to structure my sabbatical this way. We do have plans in place for how and when we will see each other. More importantly, we have a strong marriage, a strong family, and a strong peace about this summer.
What do you hope to gain from this experience?
To grow closer to myself and to the Lord Jesus Christ. Other than that, I’m carrying few expectations and am remaining open to the working of the Holy Spirit.
What will happen at St. Anne’s while you’re gone?
I hope St. Anne’s will use this time for refreshment, reflection, and renewal as well. The Vestry will be working on finishing up our next 3-5 year vision plan, and I’d love to see the congregation undertake some special sabbatical project while I’m away. Either way, you will have all the same worship events and fellowship activities that you would normally expect in May, June, and July.
Who will be in charge?
Our Assistant Rector, the Rev. Ellen Richardson, will oversee all matters related to pastoral care, worship, and programs. Senior Warden Alan Peaslee and Junior Warden David Fant, along with the Vestry and Finance Committee, will oversee the temporal matters of the church. Parish Administrator Emily Guerry will continue to run the office. And, of course, our many volunteers will continue to oversee their ministries.
Can we contact you?
Unfortunately, no. For sabbatical to do what it’s supposed to do, I need real silence and freedom from the responsibilities and expectations of St. Anne’s. I will not have my phone with me.
What if someone at St. Anne’s dies?
This possibility is, to me, the hardest part of sabbatical. Nonetheless, I have seen how this parish comes together when members die, and I have seen how our Assistant Rector lovingly, skillfully provides for our families in their distress. She has my blessing, as do you. It will pain me not to be here, but I know you will take care of one another in all the best possible ways.
When will you return?
At the conclusion of sabbatical my family and I will tack on a week of actual vacation together to reunite, reorient, and have a little fun before their new school year begins. I will be back in the office on August 15. My first Sunday will be Rally Sunday, August 21.
What can we do to support you?
- Come to church. Stay involved. Keep your ministries going strong. Be here to worship and to welcome new folks this summer.
- Pray for me. And pray for my family and our parish.
- Let me go. You may be excited, angry, confused, or indifferent about all this. Wherever you are, trust that God is up to something good, and let this be a holy time for all of us.