Renewal Leave and Sabbath
Purpose of Sabbath for Renewal
In Genesis the concept and importance of Sabbath and rest are formed and grounded. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy include several passages that establish laws for God’s people to practice Sabbath and rest for themselves, their neighbors, the poor, even their crops and animals. In the Gospels, Jesus consistently takes time away to pray and become centered – staying closely connected to God, his Father.
In today’s culture, Sabbath is often thought of as an antiquated concept or at best is appreciated as a romantic idea or an unattainable spiritual ideal. At its core, the purpose of Sabbath is to remind us of who we are and whose we are. Without a regular time for Sabbath, we easily start to believe our identity is the sum of our accomplishments. The result can be an endless drive toward more doing and activity to keep us from becoming or feeling insignificant. The outcome of practicing Sabbath is a regularly renewed spirit and a joyful freedom that stems from the knowledge that we are each a unique reflection of God our creator who calls us good and loves us into new life each day.
I believe the words I have written about the importance of Sabbath and rest are true. I have experienced it, but not regularly enough. I confess that my life does not often bear witness to the importance of regularly taking Sabbath. One model for regular Sabbath is called the 1-1-1 model. I like it because it is simple and easy to remember. The idea is to take 1 hour a day, 1 day a week and 1 week a year for Sabbath time. But for what? What does “taking Sabbath time” look like?
It is a question that is inviting me to learn about and answer anew. In general terms, I think taking Sabbath time means taking time away from work. More specifically, time that is not focused on productivity and doing, but rather on being and being made new. To that end, I imagine Sabbath time might include reading, prayer, reflection, journaling, coloring, play, exercise, eating, sleeping, meditating, devotions, worship and many things. Maybe Sabbath time is also marked by an intentionality that simply helps us to be aware of the quality, nature and intent of the time as Sabbath. In other words, it may be that claiming a time as Sabbath and accepting it as a gift is part of what makes the time Sabbath. In this sense, it may be that the regular practice of Sabbath can allow us to experience Sabbath even in our work.
Spiritual Renewal Leave for Clergy and Congregation
I am feeling called to renew the practice of regularly taking Sabbath. At the same time, I am feeling called to invite and help the Faith UMC congregation to experience Sabbath and grow with me in the practice of Sabbath as a lifestyle. While any of us can decide to make this shift starting today, I’m convinced the shift will not just happen overnight but that it will be a journey that will take time.
The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (2012 and earlier editions) encourages clergy to regularly engage in extended periods of Sabbath for spiritual renewal:
- Paragraph 351.2 – “A clergy member’s continuing education and spiritual growth program should include such leaves at least one week each year and at least one month during one year of every quadrennium.” (4 years).
- Paragraph 351.3 – “A clergy member may request a formational and spiritual growth leave of up to six months while continuing to hold an appointment in the local church. Such leaves are available to clergy members who have held full-time appointments for at least six years.”
The Lilly Endowment seeks to “… strengthen Christian congregations through renewal and reflection” - See more at: http://www.cpx.cts.edu/renewal#sthash.5oiT9sjA.dpuf
To achieve its mission, Lilly provides grants to congregations and their pastors to plan for and experience renewal leave over a 3 to 6 month period. A grant provides up to $50,000 for such leave ($35,000 for the pastor’s leave and $15,000 for the congregation’s renewal).
The Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) at Faith UMC has encouraged me to take renewal leave in 2017 and to apply for a Lilly Grant. At its monthly meetings since September, the SPRC has discussed the value and nature of renewal leave for me and the congregation. Since April, 2015, I have had various conversations with different people at FUMC about the nature and possibilities for renewal leave to provide renewal for me and the congregation. At the February 2, 2016 Church Board meeting, the leave was unanimously approved. On Sunday, February 28, there was a group of people who attended a lunch meeting with guest SPRC chairperson from Solon UMC to talk more about renewal leave for both me and the congregation. On April 10, 2016 there is a second lunch meeting 12:15-1:15 with Jim Skinner to explore together how the congregation will use this time for renewal.
Covenant Group for Renewal
To best plan for and maximize the benefits of this renewal leave for the congregation and for me and my family, I am forming a “Covenant Group for Renewal”. If you would like to know more about this group, please contact me.
My prayer is that this renewal leave will truly be a time of renewal for the entire congregation, my family and myself. Ilook forward to this opportunity and its impact on the entire congregation at FUMC. Please feel free to contact me with any questions by email, text or call.
 The Book of Discipline of the UMC provides guidelines, policies, procedures and practices for UM churches and UM pastors. It is reviewed and revised every four years based on decisions made at General Conference, a 2-week gathering of UMC representatives (clergy and lay) from around the world.