Rev. Jim McClain Senior Pastor

As this issue reaches its publication date, I should be comfortably situated in the desert hills of New Mexico at Christ in the Desert monastery. I want to thank the Christian Theological Seminary and its role in administering the Lilly Endowment National Clergy Renewal Program for fully funding this sabbatical. I know there will be several expenses I will choose to pick up on my own but without this grant, there is no way I or Laurel Heights could have arranged a Season of Renewal of this quality. Dr. Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Endowment says, “Lilly Endowment is pleased that this program enables hardworking pastors to step away briefly from their ministerial responsibilities for rest and renewal.” As I write this I am looking forward to returning to Laurel Heights November 1st, rested and renewed, to continue my appointment.

I also am deeply thankful to the congregation for gifting me the time needed for this sabbatical and engaging in the sabbatical experience with me. Coble goes on to say, “We regularly hear that these renewal experiences are transformative for pastors, their families and their congregations.” Time, resources and a willing spirit are all required for a successful sabbatical. I know you will not only enjoy and learn from the broad range of pastors who have agreed to bring the message, teach the faith and administer the sacraments, but that you will find new resources within yourself and the congregation to engage the mission field Laurel Heights has been entrusted to.

Genesis 1 and 2; Exodus 20:8-11, 23:10-12; Leviticus 25:1-7 (Sabbatical Year), 24:8-25 (Year of Jubilee); Psalm 23; and Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 all talk about sabbatical in some way. The word sabbatical is drawn from Sabbath meaning to “close or rest.” In Genesis 2:3, the last day of Creation when God rested, God both models and commands Sabbath rest for his people. “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11). The Biblical example of Jesus’ own frequent withdrawal to a quiet place to meditate, pray and be renewed is a model for the sabbatical. In his ministry, the constant demands of people led Jesus to step away on a regular basis.

Roy Oswald, Alban Institute, suggests that the rapid change and complexity of congregational life and ministry raises the need for three months of sabbatical rest and renewal every four to seven years. This is not only beneficial for clergy, but congregations as well. A season of sabbatical and renewal provides the opportunity for congregations to examine their dependency on the ministry leader and consider expanding the roles of lay leaders. It is a time for a congregation to rediscover its own resources for lay leadership within the congregation and to be itself renewed. One study reported that 75% of congregations report that the sabbatical tangibly benefited the life of the church. Further, solid majorities reported that the sabbatical had a positive impact on the congregational attitudes to pastoral sabbaticals, mobilized a continuing increase in lay involvement in church leadership, and generated a discernible increase in the overall enthusiasm for ministry among congregation members.

I will join you in spirit Sunday,