In the fall of 2020, on recommendation from the Personnel Ministry Team, Session voted to approve a sabbatical experience for our church and our senior pastor, Steve Lindsley, in the summer of 2021. In the explanation that follows and the accompanying video from Steve and Lindsey Field, member of Personnel, we hope to answer any questions and assure you of the positive and enriching experience we know this will be for both Steve and Trinity.
It’s a common practice in Presbyterian churches for pastors and churches to engage in sabbatical as a mutual time of rest and renewal. The Presbytery of Charlotte’s guidelines for full-time called and installed pastors provide that pastors have “sabbatical leave during the seventh year of service for at least three months.”
Some core understandings of a sabbatical:
- The goal for both pastor and congregation is to spend a set period of time away from one another, so that both may be renewed and refreshed for ministry together going forward.
- Sabbaticals are intended for healthy pastors and healthy congregations. If the pastor is burned out or the congregation is in crisis, it is not the right time for sabbatical.
- While the pastor is the one who steps away, the sabbatical is for both the pastor and congregation. Both need time for rest and renewal.
- It is a “clean break” – during the sabbatical, the pastor does not engage in Sunday worship, funerals, pastoral care, or any church-related work. Arrangements are made for those duties to be covered by others.
- Sabbatical is not an extended vacation. The difference centers on the intent of the activities. Vacation focuses on relaxation; sabbatical focuses on renewal.
- The church continues paying the pastor their full salary and benefits during the sabbatical.
How long will you be away?
My first day away will be Tuesday, June 1. I’ll be back in the office on Wednesday, Sept. 1st.
Are you really away?
For those three months, yes. The spirit of a sabbatical is to honor a true “clean break”. During that time you won’t hear from me through any church channels. I won’t be preaching, providing pastoral care, or performing funerals or weddings. I recognize it’ll feel weird to be disconnected from me for three months – and if I’m honest, it’ll feel weird on my end to be disconnected from you!
What will you do on your sabbatical?
Since sabbaticals are not extended vacations and instead involve some intentionality to them, I’m focusing on exploring God’s gifts (learning to play cello), working on some personal growth with a mindfulness coach, and taking to rest and making my family a priority. There will be other things, but that’s it in a nutshell.
If I see you in the grocery store, what do I do?
I hope you’ll say “hi!” It’s inevitable that we’ll run into each other around town. When we do, I’ll look forward to hearing how your summer is going and telling you about mine (but we can hit the pause button on “church chat” for the time 😉
Who’s in charge while you’re gone?
Rebecca will be serving as acting head of staff and moderator of session, so if there’s something you typically come to me for, you’ll now go to her. Cheryl will continue running the church office. And of course the session is ultimately in charge of all things at Trinity.
What about worship?
Rebecca will be leading worship for the summer. Caroline East is joining us as summer parish associate, a very similar role to what she had here two years ago. The two will split preaching duties and, along with Chris and Jodi, lead our wonderful weekly worship services.
Will we have to wait until you return to make important decisions in the life of the church – say, whether we can go back in the sanctuary every Sunday for worship?
Nope! As a Presbyterian church the big decisions almost always fall to session, not the senior pastor. Should any important decisions need to be made, we have a strong leadership team in session and Rebecca to make whatever decision is needed. Any changes in our approach to worship regarding Covid will come from conversations among our Covid Advisory Group, the Worship Ministry Team, and session, facilitated by Rebecca.
Why are you going on a sabbatical now? Isn’t it weird to do this during a pandemic?
The presbytery requires congregations and pastors to take a three-month sabbatical after the seventh year of service. That was actually supposed to be last summer, but we were in the final stages of calling an associate pastor and it felt important to be present for that. While it may not be ideal to be gone during a pandemic, the truth is that everything that would happen with me here will still happen with me gone. Plus, if churches waited for the “perfect time” for a sabbatical they’d likely be waiting a long time!
How will we know how things are going with your sabbatical?
If you follow me on social media you’ll see me post things there. Also, the Sabbatical Team and I will schedule a post-Sabbatical event sometime in September to share our mutual experiences, so stay tuned!
You talk about how this is “our” sabbatical, but you’re the one that’s leaving. How will the church experience sabbatical?
Rebecca and Caroline East are lining up sermons that will reflect the three parts of our collective sabbatical experience – exploring God’s gifts, mindfulness, and rest/renewal. I’m also making suggestions in my Monday Messages this month of how you can engage sabbatical over the summer.
Are you excited?
I am, for both of us. Sabbaticals are for healthy congregations and healthy pastors. It is a good thing that we are able to experience this together!