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What is a Sabbatical?

510 S. Farwell St., Eau Claire WI 54701 • 715.835.3734 Map to the Cathedral

What is a Sabbatical?

~Fr. Michael

This year, after planning and preparing since my arrival at the Cathedral, the vestry has agreed to allow me to take three months of sabbatical time in 2018, my seventh year with the congregation.  While this is a regular practice in every major denomination, and is encouraged practice throughout the Episcopal Church, it is not something any Dean of Christ Church Cathedral has yet done.  As with any new exercise, some information is useful.

This sabbatical will be a period of time when the congregation and I set aside our normal pastoral relationship for the purpose of education, rest, and renewal toward sustained service of the ministry.  It is not an extended vacation, nor is it a time to look for a new position, but a temporary release from the physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual demands of the call for the well-being of the leader.

 The word sabbatical comes from the biblical word Sabbath, which has a long and rich history of interpretation and use within the church and within our culture.  Keeping the Sabbath is both an act of creation (see Genesis 1 and 2) and a commandment (see Exodus 20).  This suggests that God has woven it into the very fabric of our being, and knowing what’s best for us, gives us a large framework for making sure we rest and take care of ourselves.  Jesus himself taught extensively about Sabbath and rest, saying “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.”  And the church has long taken His model of retreat and withdrawal to a quiet place to pray and be renewed.  Throughout His ministry, the steady demand led Jesus to step away on a regular basis.

Richard Bullock and Richard Bruesehoff in Clergy Renewal: The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning suggest the following motivations for considering a ministry sabbatical:

Continual spiritual growth facilitated by periods of rest and renewal is vital toward being an effective minister.

  • Pastoral responsibilities are not contained within normal office hours and regularly involve long hours on weekends and evenings.
  • Rapid change in parish ministry in recent years increases the likelihood of burnout without periods of rest and renewal.  
  • Burnout makes ministry and the minister, dull, hollow, and uninteresting.  
  • Provides the opportunity for congregations to examine their dependency on the ministry leader and consider expanding the roles of lay leaders.

All of this comes down to the fact that there are natural rhythms in our lives and in the Church.  These rhythms are God-created, and so even in a fallen world, they can be health-giving and spirit-nurturing.  Failure to appreciate and connect to those rhythms is destructive; acknowledging and coming into synchronicity with those rhythms strengthens our resilience and creativity.  One such rhythm is time away.  The motivation is not remedial or even preventative, but simply to be in tune with the health-giving and spirit-nurturing will of God.  Our hope is that everyone will be enriched.

There are still quite a few possibilities for things that I might do this year, and so much of the time has not been firmly scheduled yet.  I have been elected by the Diocese to serve the General Convention which meets this year in Austin, Texas, which is a two-week commitment; I am also scheduled to participate in a new training directive offered by the national church with regard to stewardship; this will take place in April, along with the North American Cathedral Dean’s Conference.  The only things firmly scheduled at this point are my induction into the Society of Ordained Scientists, and my enrollment in a January Term language immersion course.