the occasional fortunate pastor

fallowground

I am ‘the occasional fortunate pastor’ who has been granted a sabbatical for the sake of renewal, re-tooling, re-freshment, and re-vision.  I keep talking to people who say this with great sincerity:  “I am so glad you are getting a sabbatical.”

And I know there is often a sub-text that says, “I wish I could do that.”

In this series of blog posts on sabbatical, I have quoted heavily from Andy Crouch’s book, Playing God.  I have saved the most inspiring and convicting passage for last.  Andy talks of our American practice of retirement and suggests that the 8-9 years of ‘retirement’ that we are all anticipating at the age of 68 or 70 after 48 years of labor could be better received and enjoyed in 7th year sabbatical breaks.  It’s a compelling argument.

Could a sabbatical be in your future as well?  Enjoy this long quote.  (special thanks to Morgan Reed who prepared it for me).  Please look for my final farewell after these words from Andy…

In our culture sabbatical is a term reserved almost exclusively for teachers and scholars (and the occasional fortunate pastor) who are granted a year off to allow their teaching to lie fallow and to pursue other callings. The sabbatical year in academia is not a vacation –“time off” without goals or accountability.  Rather, it is an opportunity to expand and redirect one’s vocation, to explore what we may be called to next.

If weekly Sabbaths seem out of reach for many of us, a sabbatical year must sound like fantasy.  Assuming we do not work in an institutional setting like a university or church that will pay for our time, how could we ever afford to withdraw from our day-to-day productive activities for an entire year?

This question was exactly what the Israelites asked about their own sabbatical year, and God had a very specific response recorded alongside the Levitical law: “Should you ask, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?’ I will order my blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it will yield a crop for three years” (Leviticus 25:20-21). The commandment came with the provision to keep it; all Israel had to do was be prepared to harvest the abundance in advance and steward it over the following years of rest and return to ordinary work.

And in fact, in Western societies we are familiar with the idea of laboring while planning and saving up for a future when our activity will not be economically productive. We call it “retirement”: many years of leisure after decades of hard work, ideally filled with enjoyable travel and time with extended family and friends. Many Americans have no trouble, at least in principle, with the idea of people saving up for their retirement years (though having the means and the will to save enough is a different matter).

As it turns out, retirement and sabbatical require similar amounts of time. If one were to start full-time work at twenty-one and retire at the age of sixty-nine, then hoped to enjoy an “active retirement” until, say seventy-seven before being more constrained by the limitations of old age, the forty-eight years of work would be matched by eight years of retirement–exactly the 1-for-6 ration of the sabbatical year.

Yet modern “retirement” is far less healthy than the 1-to-6 pattern of Leviticus because all the years of leisure are piled up at the end of one’s life. Two years of rest are not twice as satisfying as one, and ten years are assuredly not ten times as satisfying. Leisure has sharply diminishing returns, especially when there is no meaningful work ahead of us to which we might apply the insights and energy gained during our year of rest.  Image bearers are not meant to take a permanent vacation from responsibility and creativity.  The retirement model not only asks us to soldier through an entire working life without ever benefiting from the rest and refreshment of a sabbatical year, it gives us no wider cultural purpose for our retirement years than our own leisure and pleasure.

As more and more people who have the luxury of retiring are finding out, endless unproductive leisure is something to be avoided, not sought. A cruise may feel like heaven for two weeks, but it would feel like hell after two years.  And at the same time, the gifts of modern medical care and the shift to less physically demanding work mean that there is no good reason for many people to cease working at sixty-five or sixty-nine.  So why is there a vast industry designed to channel our planning and saving toward the dubious reward of retirement, and none designed to help us plan and save for periodic sabbaticals?

I recognize that there are vast complexities in implementing a sabbatical vision for any one individual, let alone a whole society.  All I am really trying to do is to awaken us to our odd situation.  Working without extended periods of rest, we dream, plan, save and strive for a vision of the good life that will come in our later years.  But in practice that dream may turn out to be just a disappointing, diminishing form of idolatry. And should we discover at that point that retirement is not as satisfying as we had hoped, it will be difficult if not impossible to change course and make difficult choices.  Meanwhile, we think Scripture’s much more realistic, beneficial and achievable vision inconceivable.

The sabbatical year is both a discipline toward power and a discipline that tames power.  Sabbaticals force us to relinquish our sense of indispensability.  So they subvert the god playing that can afflict custodians and CEOs alike.  The truth is that others are fully able to fill the roles we set aside.  This humbling reality can help us return to work with a more sober sense of our own importance and abilities, as well as providing organizations with a deep “bench” of people who have grown in their capacities during one another’s absence.

Could a sabbatical be in your future?

This is it…  until September.

On Friday, February 26, I will turn on my email vacation responder.  It will give instructions on who to contact at Restoration over the next 6 months if you have questions or needs.

It will also remind you that I will not be checking either my restorationarling.org account or my gmail.com account.  The inboxes for both of these accounts will have thousands of messages by September 1, 2016 and all of them will be deleted before I return.  Part of the gift of sabbatical is the gift of an empty email inbox in September.

Please re-contact me then!

I will also be de-activating my Facebook and Twitter accounts.  I am doing this for 2 reasons:

First, I want to spend my sabbatical on the renewal that God is doing in me and avoid the temptation to voyeuristically check in on other people’s lives.

Second, I want to resist the temptation to ‘report’ on the renewal that God is doing in me which has the potential to shortcut the good work of sabbatical.  I will miss you and your updates.  I will be back on social media in September.  And social media will probably look quite different!

Thanks for reading and for praying for me and my family.  I hope you have ‘your part’ of my shirt.  See you on the other side.

-David

Who will do that?

Many hands

 

Through out these Sabbatical 2016 blog posts, I have talked about the history of this idea at Restoration, the Biblical basis for taking a sabbatical, and the various things that I may do while away from Restoration.

Surely you are asking now, ‘Wait.  While you are gone…  What about all the stuff the Rector does?  Who will do that?’  Read on.

Who will preach? 

This question in particular makes me so excited about the sabbatical for Restoration.  Over the course of 30 Sundays, you will hear 17 different preachers.  They are EXCELLENT communicators who are passionate about building up the body of Christ through the teaching of His word.  We have divide my sabbatical into 3 sermon series.  Here is a quick overview of each:

Lent:  Back to Virtue [February 14-March 13]

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You can read about our plans for Lent right here.  It will be a deep time for our community as we seek to move away from vice and to embrace virtue.  The Sunday preachers will focus on repentance that is both personal and corporate.  How do we change our minds about our own wrongs and the wrongs of the systems in which we live?

 

Holy Week and Eastertide [March 20-May 8]

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During this season, the preachers will focus on stories of gospel engagement from the book of Acts.  The resurrection of Jesus initiated an explosion of good news and incredible signs of the Kingdom that has begun.  A special highlight will be hearing from Rev. Tak Meng, who is the Dean of the Anglican Church of Cambodia, on April 10.

 

Pentecost to Labor Day [May 15-September 4]

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During the late spring and summer, the Restoration pulpit will be filled with a variety of men and women who will teach from the minor prophets.  These small books that are found at the end of the Old Testament have incredible, prophetic insight for the people of God.  “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” (Malachi 4:2)  Each week will be so interesting.

 

What about your primary leadership role?

Rector=Priest in Charge

This is the most concise way to define my job description.  I am responsible for everything, but I don’t do everything.  We have a great team of staff and volunteer leaders who provide so much tactical and strategic leadership for our church.  During my absence, there will not be an ‘interim’ or ‘acting’ rector.  Our bishop, John Guernsey, who has been intimately involved in the vestry and staff sabbatical leadership preparation, has suggested that the duties of rector be shared among several people, rather than laid upon any one person.

To that end, we have created an ad hoc ‘executive team’ that will carry my primary leadership responsibilities during the sabbatical.  This team is populated by staff and vestry:  Liz Gray (associate rector), Nathan Dickerson (associate rector), Kat Downs (director of operations), Carolyn Weimer (warden), Hannah Royal (warden), and Ramsey Wilson (treasurer).  They will meet regularly and provide communication between our staff team and vestry.  I am very thankful for this team and quite confident that Restoration will be lead with grace, precision, and kindness.  You are in good hands.  

This team and Bishop John will provide all of the staff supervision as well during my absence.

How do I stay informed?

Our leaders do a great job communicating about new initiatives, exciting developments, and ideas that affect your church.  During my sabbatical, we are praying that new things would grow according to the grace and plans of our Father in heaven.  Would you consider making an extra effort to read what is written, to pray for what is needed, and to be present on Sundays?  The leadership team will make every effort to provide the information you need.  Would you do your part to receive and consume it?  Subscribe to our blog and our Friday e-newsletter.  Like us on Facebook.  Read the worship guide.

Parish Meetings

The most efficient way to get the most critical information is to attend our thrice-annual Parish Meeting.  On Tuesday, February 9 we will serve pancakes for Shrove Tuesday starting at 5:30 and then provide a parish update at 7pm.  This will be my last opportunity to have a general Q&A with you before the sabbatical begins.  I hope you can be there.

The next Parish Meeting will be June 7.  I know the leadership of Restoration would be so encouraged for you to be present and to check in on how the sabbatical and our exciting initiatives are going.  Save the date!

Restoration has such a strong group of leaders.  I love this about our church.  I brag about you all the time.  May God richly bless you during the sabbatical as you hear GREAT preaching and as you are shepherded by gifted men and women who are faithful to Jesus.

-David

What will you do on your sabbatical?

Deep Dive

This is the 3rd part of my Sabbatical 2016 series.  In my first 2 posts, I talked about what it is and why Restoration is making it happen.  Here I want to drill down a little further into what I am doing.

The hope of my sabbatical is to be renewed in my love for Jesus and to be renewed in my connections with my family, while at the same time providing time and space for Restoration to grow into a new season of shared leadership and ministry.

What will I do?

Because of my kids’ educational needs, the sabbatical will really have 2 parts.  Part 1 will be in Arlington from March 1- mid June.  Part 2 will be out west from mid-June to mid-August.

Part 1:  Arlington

It is my hope to have a daily rhythm of activities that are very different from my normal tasks.  In my work, I spend a lot of time expressing myself with words.  I am looking forward to the way different mediums will help me express myself and elicit greater understanding of how I am growing in Christ.  The ‘daily task’ change feels inherently renewing.

Here are some questions that have come up about this season:

  1. Where will you worship?  Remember that one of the goals for the sabbatical is to allow new leadership opportunities to emerge and flourish at Restoration.  To that end, I will not attend the Sunday Eucharist at Restoration for my entire sabbatical.  My last Sunday to be with you is February 21 and my first Sunday back is September 4.  I am looking forward to worshiping with my fellow church plant colleagues in the area and in churches I have never visited.  Restoration staff are permitted 4 Sundays a year away from the church.  So I rarely get to be in other contexts and I am excited to see what God is doing.
  2. What about your family?  You will probably see them occasionally around Restoration.  One of the joyful realities for our family is that our church is also a primary community of friends.  So as I pursue other rhythms, activities, and places of worship, the rest of the family will probably stay connected to their small groups and occasionally the Sunday Eucharist.
  3. What if I see David around Arlington during the sabbatical?  What should I do?  Say hi!  Feel free to ask me how I am doing.  Feel free to tell me what God is doing in you and in the church.  Those serendipitous, unplanned encounters will be fun for me.

Part 2:  a deep dive…

Once the kids have finished their academic year, we will load into our van, throw 6 bikes on the top and back, and head west.  It is a gift to have a block of time to ‘disappear’ and be together.  It will be a unique and unusual summer–  no swim team, birthdays in different locations, a long time away from home.  We are all so excited and grateful for the opportunity to invest in our family relationships.

We will re-emerge in Arlington in the middle of August.  I will spend some time writing, listening, and preparing my heart to re-engage with the work of leading Restoration.  Lord willing, on September 1, I will get on my bike and pedal over to Quincy Street for the next season.

-David

 

What’s a sabbatical?

gleaning

So, I am taking a sabbatical.  I recognize that it is a word that most of us have heard but only a miniscule fraction have ever experienced.  If you work in the academic space you may be more familiar with the concept.  But many people have asked me–  “Now, what is a sabbatical?  What will you do?”  I will give you the answer to “what I am doing?” in a couple weeks.  For now, I want to show you where the concept comes from in Scripture.

In his book, Playing God, Andy Crouch identifies 4 structures that God gave to His people to ‘make space’.  Structures that create margin for listening, resting, celebrating, and remembering.  Andy calls these structures a ‘sabbath ladder’.  They can best be illustrated by imagining the agrarian society in which they were formed.  They would show up in the work of harvesting.

  • Gleaning–  An opportunity every day to not take everything, to leave profit at the edges.
  • Sabbath–  An opportunity every week to take an entire day of rest, to let the crops grow on their own.
  • Sabbatical–  Every 7 years, an opportunity to leave the field alone entirely and to live simply on what comes up with no cultivation.
  • Jubilee–  Every 50th year (after 7 sabbaticals) to celebrate a once in a lifetime event where debts are forgiven, land that has been pledges as security for debts is returned to its original family, and slaves are freed.

At each stage of the ladder, the powerful are asked to relinquish more of their power and privilege NOT because God does not intend wealth to be invested productively and yield an abundant harvest, but because both the wealthy and the poor are image bearers and only be climbing the sabbath ladder will the powerful be assured that they are making room for others to glean, to rest, and to feast.

Andy Crouch p.249

Getting to ‘sabbatical’

I want to talk about 3 of them as a means to understanding why sabbatical is important.

Gleaning

And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 23:22

Farmers would intentionally leave a percentage of their harvest in the field.  They would budget, prepare and operate at 95% or 96% of capacity so that there was space for the poor to have a dignified opportunity to collect and care for themselves.

This is not charity.  It is a discipline to not always max out and push productivity to its very limit.  We are invited each day to do less than we could possible do so that we have the opportunity to say yes to what God might have for us.

Sabbath

Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places.

Leviticus 23:3

The challenge is disarmingly simple:  one day a week, not to do anything that we know to be work.

Our ability to disengage from the activities that give us identity, meaning and agency in our public worlds tells us volumes about whether our activity is fruitful image bearing or increasingly desperate god playing.

Andy Crouch

I rarely feel such clear signs of fatigue and anxiety on days that are filled with travel, meetings, and assignments.  Yet when I stop…  when I cease for the sake of sabbath…  then I recognize my exhaustion.  Without sabbath, I would be dangerously ignorant of the true condition of my soul.

We are invited each week to remember that we are dependent creatures, to celebrate that we have a Father who loves us, and to trust that He will provide all that we need.  That trust is demonstrated by not working.

Sabbatical

…the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD.  3 For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits,  4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.  5 You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.  6 The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you,  7 and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food…  20 And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?’  21 I will command my blessing on you in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years.  22 When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating some of the old crop; you shall eat the old until the ninth year, when its crop arrives.

Leviticus 23: 3-7, 20-22

“If a weekly sabbath demanded a certain amount of faith and trust, a ‘sabbatical year’ must have required tremendous discipline from people whose entire sustenance came from the land.  It would require advanced planning, storing up sufficient grain in the years preceding the sabbath year.”  (Andy Crouch p.258)

If you worked hard for 6 years, what would you do in that 7th?  It became an ideal time for pilgrimage, for worship and study, for sport and song.  “The 7th year ensured that even people whose existence was largely defined by subsistence would explore the broader and deeper implications of image bearing.”  (Crouch)

If weekly sabbaths seem out of reach, a prolonged sabbatical of 6 months to a year must sound impossible.  For me, it has been a discipline to learn to take a weekly day off–  to be faithful in a small thing so that I can be faithful in something greater.  My weekly sabbaths create opportunities for a rich life-  I take piano lessons, I coach soccer, I read, I go for long runs…  I have taught myself how to rest in preparation for entering in to the space that this sabbatical season will give.  

Once more from Andy…

Sabbaticals are a tremendous privilege in the most precise sense of the word:  the accumulated benefits of past exercises of power.  I realize that even raising the idea of a sabbatical year, in our unjust (that is, idolatrous) society, will provoke envy and discontent for many readers who feel they have no such option.  But it is crucial that we recognize that the sabbatical year was a privilege commanded by God (emphasis by Andy) for the people of Israel.  The Creator God is not an idol who extracts endless work while dangling the promise of eventual leisure–  he is an abundant God fully capable of providing everything we need to be faithful to HIS cosmic pattern of work and rest. (emphasis by me)

You can argue from Scripture that sabbath and sabbatical are not options for the people of God.  But that gets personal really fast.  Instead, may you rejoice that God has given you meaningful work and the opportunity to walk through a door to rest and rejuvenation if you choose.

-David

So I’m taking a sabbatical…

BreakUpFallowGround

Rector’s Sabbatical:  March 1-September 1, 2016

On Sunday, I got my first opportunity to publicly talk about my sabbatical.  If you attended our parish meetings in 2015, you heard that it was being planned.  Most of you knew that this was in the works.  Yet, it was fun for me to share the history of this endeavor and the way it came to be.

Restoration launched in January 2009.  Early in our story, the vestry made provision for a sabbatical for clergy.  In the very first edition of our employee handbook, it was written that every 7 years, the rector would receive a 6 month sabbatical.   2016 seemed so far in the distance back then.  

Yet, we have known for a long time that this point would come and that a rector sabbatical would be a possibility in 2016.  So, the vestry put aside a bit of money each year to help cover the costs of guest preachers and other program opportunities.  In February 2015, the vestry created a sabbatical team which came alongside Laurel and I for the purpose of planning what would be needed by Restoration and what would be needed by my family during the sabbatical.  This team was lead by Chris Belen and included vestry member Christine Jones, Jon Terry, Devin Hagerty, Ray Blunt, and Allison Gaskins.  They have asked great questions and crafted creative solutions.  After 10 months of work, the team presented a 5 page sabbatical proposal to our vestry that was unanimously approved in November.

Over the next month, I will use my weekly blog post to answer a few questions about the sabbatical.  Including,

  • ‘What is the biblical instruction regarding sabbatical rest?’ 
  • ‘What will I ‘do’ during the sabbatical?’ 
  • ‘What about the rest of the Hankes?’ and ‘What do we do if we see David around Arlington?’ 
  • ‘How will David’s various responsibilities at Restoration be covered while he is away?’ 

I will tag each of these posts with ‘Sabbatical2016’ so that you can find them quickly if you have questions.

This is the quote from my friend, Andy Crouch that has guided the sabbatical team and the leadership of Restoration as we have prayed and planned for 2016.

“The sabbatical is both a discipline toward power and a discipline that tames power.  Sabbaticals force us to relinquish our sense of indispensability.  So they subvert the god playing that can afflict custodians and CEOs alike.  The truth is that others are fully able to fill the roles we set aside.  This humbling reality can help us return to work with a more sober sense of our own importance and abilities, as well as providing organizations with a deep “bench’ of people who have grown in their capacities during one another’s absence.” 

from Playing God 

The sabbatical is a gift.  And an investment.  It is a wonderful opportunity for new things to spring up, blossom, and flourish at Restoration during my absence.  And it is a humble opportunity for me to rest, renew, and recharge for the ministry season to come.

This is very good.  I am proud of Restoration for doing it.

-David

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