Thursday, May 30, 2013

A pre-sabbatical letter to my congregation

Here is the church newsletter article that I have written prior to my departure . . .

Dear Friends,

     As you have probably heard, I will depart for a three-month pastoral sabbatical after worship on Sunday, June 16. I am grateful to the Session and the Presbytery for making this gift of time available to me and my family. This is a tremendous blessing, and I look forward to returning to you on Sunday, September 15.

     We are particularly blessed to have a grant from the Lilly Endowment to make this sabbatical possible. Thanks to the grant, the Rev. Roger Griffith has been hired by the Session to preach each week and provide pastoral continuity in my absence. Many of you know him from his work at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Dallas, from which he retired last September. You will find him to be a friendly and warm leader, and I am thrilled that we were able to secure him. He will be available for pastoral care at any time, and you can contact him through our church office.

     Pastoral sabbaticals have emerged in the past two decades as essential practices for long-term pastorates. They provide for an extended break from the day-in, day-out demands of pastoral ministry. While my work is not physically demanding, it does require constant availability, emotional energy, spiritual presence, mental clarity, organizational oversight, and an enormous level of patience.  I love what I do – yet a break will be good for my spiritual well-being.

    In the distant past, it was common, for instance, for the Presbyterian pastor to take the month of July as vacation time, and the United Methodist pastor to take off for August. The churches would worship together during those two months and the pastors would cover for one another during this “quieter” time.  Of course, a church like ours never has a “quieter” time; the pace is constant, energy is high. And as dual-income households became the norm, this practice disappeared. “Down time” for most of us is often scheduled in small chunks – and I find that time is short for truly resting from the emotional demands of ministry.

     So I am trying to imagine an extended Sabbath time of peace and restoration. What will I do this summer? Here is a random list of things to be done at a very leisurely pace:
  • Retreat in a Benedictine monastery
  • Spend significant time with my family
  • Read a few of my many unread books 
  • Chat regularly with a spiritual director
  • Take three daughters on a pilgrimage to Scotland
  • Get caught up on some sleep
  • Enjoy my parents, my brother and sisters, and my grandmother
  • Travel with a high school friend to a jazz festival
  • Listen to other preachers do what I do
  • Allow creative new ideas to bubble up
  • Hike with my wife in the mountains and plot out the impending “empty nest”
  • Pray for the church that I love  
  • Sit in a favorite chair to watch the squirrels
  • Reflect on my life, my work, and God’s grace
     That is how the season of Sabbath will probably look for me. I hope it is a season when you can make the time to replenish your soul as well. As I will say in my sermon on June 16, Sabbath is God’s gift to us – and we must claim it if it is to have any benefit.

     As mentioned elsewhere, I have started an online journal. It will be a great way to keep in touch while I am gone. You can find it at

Holding you in my heart until I see you in September,

Rev. Bill Carter

1 comment:

  1. Every active pastor needs an active Sabbath, and every long-term pastor needs an extended one. I'm not sure when the term "burn-out" came into our vocabulary, but not soon enough to prevent many faithful church workers (pastors, educators, musicians, et al)from growing too weary to be effective servants.

    Good for you to take this time (and give this time, too); good for your church to give you a break (and be willing to take a break from you!). And thanks be to God for the strong stewardship known as the Lilly Endowment. Go in peace, Bill...but GO!