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Reentry (Part 1)
What I did on my summer vacation.
I started by sabbatical on Monday, May 29. I return from my sabbatical on Tuesday, September 5. That means that, as this post goes out in the world, I have about two weeks of sabbatical left. And that, in turn, means that I am trying to wrap some things up and prepare to step back into pastoral life.
So let’s talk a little bit about stepping back into pastoral life. Let’s talk a little bit about reentry. And let’s start with what I did on my summer vacation.
Pastoral sabbaticals—as I understand them—have three main purposes.
First, to allow the pastor to rest.
I don’t think that people realize how much of our rest isn’t really rest. I have one not-quite-guaranteed day off each week, but that has to hold other parts of my life that aren’t really idle: mowing the lawn, fixing things around the house, running errands, and so on. Similarly, vacations include a lot of preparation beforehand and a lot of catch-up afterwards—and, often, some random amount of work during—so vacations shift when work is done, but they don’t reduce the amount of the work as much as you might think.
More than that, though, a day off each week—or a week off here and there—isn’t the same as a real break. It takes a little bit of time to transition from work to rest and to let the background hum of stress to dissipate. Between school, summer activities, summer jobs, and real jobs, I’m not sure I’ve had a truly significant amount of time off since middle school. And it was wonderful to have a real sabbath for a while.
It fact, I’d say it’s really weird that we’ve built our society around the idea of having something to do—if not the idea of being downright busy—all the time. Everyone should have the opportunity to put things down and just be idle for a while.
Second, to allow the pastor to reorient themselves toward the divine.
Here’s a weird fact about being a pastor: we rarely get to worship. At least, we rarely get to worship in the sense of singing the songs, listening to a word, being prayed for, or even just sitting with God. Worship, from the pastor’s perspective, is—at least a little bit—work. And that’s just not the same.
Over my sabbatical, I’ve gotten to worship at other churches and at the United Church of Christ’s General Synod. And while I’ve admittedly had an eye open for ideas to steal, I’ve actually been able to be present in worship in a way that I am not present on a normal Sunday morning.
And that is a gift.
Third, to allow the pastor to work on things that they cannot work on when they are busy with the congregation.
I missed the baking craze during the pandemic because I was busy reinventing church every couple of weeks. In addition to that, I’ve had an interested in how I—as a progressive mainline Christian in a tradition that has Reformed roots but isn’t strongly tied to Reformed theology anymore—can understand communion. So I decided to spend my sabbatical baking, exploring wines, and studying communion.
I haven’t done everything that I wanted to do—and I do have a couple of weeks to knock out a few more loaves of bread and drink a few more bottles of wine—but I’ve spent some quality time baking, eating, drinking, and reading. And I haven’t developed a doctrine of communion, nor am I sure that we need a doctrine of communion, but I think that I have traveled deeper into the mystery than I have before.
In addition to that main project, I also planned out some ideas for future sermon series and other teaching ministries. I don’t know what will come from those, but it was nice to have some time for uninterrupted imagining.
As I said, I didn’t manage to do everything that I wanted to do. Some of the questions that I have as I prepare to reenter pastoral life are about how I can continue to do some of the things that I have been doing over my sabbatical:
How can I find time for truly idle sabbath—for just being human—on a regular basis?
How can I continue to worship outside of leading worship?
How can I find time to experiment with baking and other kinds of cooking? Not just making what needs to be made for dinner tonight, but playing and learning?
And I don’t have answers to those questions yet. But I hope that I will have answers—or, at least, time to keep searching for answers—as I reenter pastoral life.