On February 1st, I'll begin my third and final sabbatical.
As I anticipate these next three months, the first word that leaps to my mind is gratitude. I'm so grateful to be pastor of a congregation that honors the importance of renewal and reimagining. I started to include rest, but I learned during my first sabbatical in Galilee and Palestine that Sabbath-time is not necessarily centered on rest and relaxation. Even more important than rest is whole-heartedness.
At a recent Leadership Council meeting, I was asked:
"If you had to name a theme for your sabbatical,
what would it be?"
I had not thought in terms of a theme for the sabbatical, but it was an evocative question, and I replied:
"A Season of Discernment."
I view this season as a time to discern, an opportunity to reflect upon our years together at RBC, and to seek the Spirit's guidance on how and when to write the final chapter. I will not return from sabbatical and immediately wave goodbye to everyone. I do not yet know the right time to leave this place and people I love so much, but I will let you know when I know, and I can tell you now that it will not be abrupt.
These few months of stepping away will give me a sense of what it would be like to be retired. I'll pay more attention to that, in ways that would not have fit my first and second sabbaticals. For over 17 years, I have seen up close how creatively so many of you have spent your retirement years. Michael Catlett, my personal and pastoral superhero, tells me that it's important to know what you're retiring from, and what you're retiring to.
It's much clearer to me that what I will retire from is something wonderful. It's life in the Beloved Community with all of you. It's "seeing" the face of Christ in 10,000 places in our life together. What I will retire to is not as clear to me yet, but I will have a chance to sample spending more time with our adult children and grandkids, and a long road trip with Jean (we will return in time for the 60th anniversary weekend). I plan to do more reading, especially the poetry of Mary Oliver, some of my books on Palestine, and the Jesus books in my library at home. All of this, as well as unplanned excursions, will be a real joy. I will enter it all whole-heartedly, and with deep gratitude.
I want to thank Leah and Michael, Cathy and Gail, and Phil and Russell for making a worry-free sabbatical possible. Everything and everyone will be in the best of hands. Joan Didion wrote a book entitled Slouching Toward Bethlehem. I feel like I'm slouching toward retirement. The reason I have not run toward retirement is simply that I continue to enjoy all of you so much, pastoring alongside Leah is such a privilege, and there is so much joy, substance, and inspiration in the life we share as disciples of Jesus.
I'll see you Sunday, then the anniversary weekend in March, and I will return the first Sunday in May. These months for all of us will be full of the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.