If you happen to be in my office any time soon, you will notice I have a list on my white board that reads as follows:
GOALS FOR SABBATICAL
A good (healing) experience for Chalice
Respond to church drama non-anxiously
Staff supports each other
One of you who saw this list exclaimed wonderingly, “A healing experience for Chalice?!?!?” Well, yes. Chalice’s only experience with a minister taking time off for sabbatical leave was in 2007, and was less than ideal. At the February 8 Board meeting that year, Rev. Margo McKenna requested taking sabbatical to begin March 1, which the Board approved. I don’t really know what the understanding of this in the congregation was (the minutes from that Board meeting are missing), but Margo described it to me—when I spoke with her about Chalice during the search proces —as an “emergency sabbatical” because she was struggling with depression. She returned from sabbatical and vacation five months later, in August.
Rev. Carol Hilton was hired to serve as the sabbatical minister, a part-time role, but sadly, her husband died in April, and she resigned from the position. Chalice’s intern minister, David Miller, subsequently took on extra duties through the summer until Margo’s return.
To recap: Margo took a sabbatical with three weeks notice. I am taking a sabbatical with five months notice. The recommended amount of notice before sabbatical is one year. (Chalice’s Board has waived this one-year notice this year to take advantage of Rev. Elizabeth being with us to serve as the sabbatical minister, and to ensure I have returned from sabbatical before any construction begins.)
As Margo described it to me, her ministry at Chalice never felt the same after her sabbatical (and not in a good way). There could be a variety of reasons for this, of course, but I can easily imagine that there was a feeling in the congregation—consciously or unconsciously—of being abandoned by their minister.
In no way do I mean to criticize Margo or the Board for those hasty sabbatical arrangements. She needed time off to care for herself, she was right to request the time, and the Board was right to approve it. But I do want to observe that the congregation’s previous experience with sabbatical was, perhaps, a little bit traumatic. “Emergency sabbatical” is not a good situation for the minister or for the congregation.
For sure, I think we can do better than that this go-round. That’s what I mean by hoping that sabbatical will be healing for the congregation: to experience that sabbaticals are good for the minister and good for the congregation, to know that they contribute to ministry being sustainable instead of debilitating, and to be heartened that our healthy congregation can and will thrive even with the Senior Minister absent.
(Rev. Sharon’s sabbatical is scheduled for July 4–October 31, 2016.)