I’m on sabbatical this month. Although the pace and nature of my working is a lot different than when I’m not on sabbatical, I’ve had to make something of an effort to make it clear that I’m not on vacation. It doesn’t help that there are a few clergy colleagues in the Maine Conference who have taken more “vacation-like” sabbaticals, with time spent with family and friends rather than with ministry-related activities.
But, I am working. My main project is to try to organize this blog. I’ve printed off every entry—quite a stack—and have sorted and re-sorted, read and re-read, trying to find a way of organizing them all into a few neat-ish categories. This is a bigger project than I envisioned, but I’m hopeful that I’ll most, if not all, of it will be done by the end of the month.
I’m also visiting, and chatting, with other churches and church people. On my first Sunday without worship leadership responsibilities, though, I did what lots of other people do where I live, and I didn’t go to church. I went to the local farmers’ market instead. It was a beautiful early August Sunday. And, the place to be was the farmers’ market in Belgrade Lakes Village. People were everywhere. Cars lined the street.
As my husband, son, and I wandered around, from one end of the village to the other, spending some time at the market in between, I found myself wondering if this was really enough. It’s social, to be sure, and helpful in boosting the local economy and all that. But, is it enough? Enough to satisfy spiritual hunger? Enough to bring meaning, connect people both to their own selves as well as a larger context?
Last Sunday, I went to worship at the largest UCC church in Maine. The worship experience did not disappoint. I’ll admit that part of the appeal was the opportunity to be in a big sanctuary with a large group of people (it may have been a small summer crowd to the regulars, but to me, it was a sizeable congregation). I grew up in a large, suburban Boston congregation. I sometimes miss that full sanctuary, large group feeling.
The associate pastor at the church had just returned from a three-month sabbatical, and preached on what he had done, which nicely seemed to be meaningfully connected to his calling as a pastor. And, he managed to talk about his journey in a way that invited the congregation into some of the insights he had gained in his travels and experiences.
I may not be in the office, but I’m not on vacation. I hope that the work that I’m doing will prove to be valuable not to just for myself, but also for the congregation I serve. It’s been a good thing to review my thoughts that I’ve shared through this blog, and to reflect further on what lessons may be gleaned from them. Active ministry can be like running a marathon—you just keep going and going, without taking time to appreciate one’s surroundings, without reflecting deeply and meaningfully on where one has been. Ministry, though, should involve more reflective time—especially now, when the landscape is considerably different than it was just a short time ago, even as it continues to change.
My goal this month is not just to gaze longingly at the past, but to slow down and spend some significant time in pondering, thinking about where we have been and where we might be headed, considering how the Holy Spirit has shown itself to be in our midst—and where the Holy Spirit may be pointing us. Such pondering is hard to do when the phone is ringing and one’s “to do” list seems a mile long. So, I am grateful for this time, and for the fruit of this very different sort of labor.