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Steeple Newsletter

Season of Sabbatical

A sabbatical for UCC pastors is a customary benefit; grounded in Christian scripture and practice. The word sabbatical, comes from the Greek word sabatikos, which means “of the Sabbath,” the day of rest that happens every seventh day. Regular worship on Sundays is one way of keeping the Sabbath.

by The Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham on March 21, 2021

First Church has not experienced a sabbatical in about twenty years. Our congregation, like many UCC churches, schedules a three-month sabbatical after a minister has served five years. Most clergy do not begin at their new church fresh off a sabbatical. Like others, I will begin my sabbatical after eight years, five and a half years at First Church and two and a half at my prior church. I will leave for Durham, NC on April the 8th and return on July the 8th. There will be an exception in June for a wedding and two memorial services that were rescheduled due this odd year and pandemic restrictions.  

Gleaning from sister congregations, I offer a few reflections about sabbatical time.

A sabbatical for UCC pastors is a customary benefit; grounded in Christian scripture and practice. The word sabbatical, comes from the Greek word sabatikos, which means “of the Sabbath,” the day of rest that happens every seventh day. Regular worship on Sundays is one way of keeping the Sabbath.

The book of Genesis provides grounding for rest – not just inactivity. Sabbath and sabbatical time allow us to set aside time intended for spiritual, emotional, and physical renewal. Jesus frequently took time away to rest and invited his disciples to do the same.

A sabbatical invites one to “discern vocation apart from the input stream.” That is, to hear God’s call apart from phone calls, emails, worship planning and implementing, committee meetings, and the variety of details that arise. It is also a time to explore other gifts, skills, disciplines, and areas of knowledge that don’t fit into daily life. It offers clergy a chance to focus on spiritual life away from vocational life and provides a congregation space to grow in confidence and develop more lay leadership gifts.

A sabbatical is a designated “time away” from regular work responsibilities. A sabbatical requires a specific plan of study, rest, discernment, skill building, reading, prayer, and play. Below you will find my “Pandemic Time Sabbatical Plan.” It will be posted in the Steeple and Landmark. Our Lead Sabbatical Interim Rev. Suzanne Wagner, our Associate Minister Rev. Jake Joseph, and our Director for Children and Youth Ministries, Ms. Judi Wallace and Mr. Bill Speed, Director of Music Ministries will be preaching, teaching, and singing from or in conjunction with the same texts listed. Together – apart, as you are able please join me in reading the weekly scripture and participating in the activity.

LIFE IN THE TIME OF COVID:  RENEWAL (Pandemic Sabbatical)

Week:                           Activity                           Scripture 
April 12                       Prayer Walk, Micah 6: 8
April 19                       Read The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist, Hebrews 13: 5 
April 26                       Paint a picture/make art, Isaiah 64: 8 
May 3                          Learn to cook something new (or something), John 21: 9-10 
May 10                        Frame family photo, Colossians 3: 13
May 17                        Ted Talk: Waiting is a Beast by Theresa Newman, Amos 5: 24 
May 24                        Choose a motto or mantra, 1 Peter 4: 8 – 10
May 31                        Plant something, Song of Songs 6: 11 
June 7                         Give away 5 items and read, Hebrews 13: 16
June 14                       Write a poem, Psalm 148
June 21                       Give to Food bank and write 3 cards, Acts 4: 32-35                        
June 28                       Meditate by coloring, Philippians 4: 8
July 5                           Prayer Walk, Leviticus 26: 12

Click here for DOC version of list

Time away: April 8-July 8

Coverage: Office Manager (with Master of Divinity!) Penelope Rebuzzini will continue to be a prayerful presence and will triage calls. Rev. Suzanne, Parish Care Team- Dr. Deb Hess, chair, Rev. Jake, Director Judi, Director Bill, Rev. Dr. Sandra, and Deacons will be available to support the needs of our congregation. 

Availability? I will be praying for you all, my church family and community. I will miss you and keep you in my heart.

I will be unavailable by email, text, or by phone from April 8 through July 8. I will be on Facebook periodically just to post updates. If our congregation or town suffers a tragedy, Penelope will let me know.

How will all of this be funded? My personal funds and some of the funds I have saved from weddings and funerals.

How will this benefit the congregation? Sabbatical is an opportunity for more leadership to arise in new ways.  If you would like to chat with me before I take sabbatical leave, please call the office or email me. I am happy to meet outside weather permitting.

During this sabbatical time First Church will honor a time of rest as well – we will not chart any new courses, or change any policies until the fall.  Come August, after our rest, we will be able to more clearly discern what may need to change as we re-engage for another church year. 

I am grateful for the days ahead, for the whisperings of God anew, for the wisdom of our church to plan sabbatical time, and for sleep too. 

Be well dear ones!

Peace, Ginger

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