Reverend Amy is going away on a sabbatical this summer.  What is a sabbatical?

A sabbatical is an extended time away from work for rest and renewal, often including elements of study or travel.  Sabbaticals are common in religious and educational institutions and are increasingly seen in other fields.  Clergy use this time away from the demands of daily ministry to engage in reflection and renewal. This approach respects the “Sabbath time” concept, offering ministers a carefully considered respite that may include travel, study, rest, prayer and immersive arts and cultural experiences.  Christopher L. Coble, the Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion, has said: “We have learned that such experiences invigorate the leadership of pastors and bring new vitality to their congregations as well.”

How long will Rev. Amy be gone?

Rev. Amy will be on sabbatical from May 16-September 10.  Her last Sunday before sabbatical is May 15 and she returns Sunday, September 11.

Why is she going now?

Clergy sabbaticals are typically taken every 4-7 years. This will be Rev. Amy’s first sabbatical in her 17 years of ordained ministry.  Rev. Amy accepted her call to Grace in lieu of a sabbatical at her previous congregation, and this sabbatical, originally anticipated for the summer of 2021, was a part of conversations with Grace’s leadership from the time of her hire.   In October 2021, when we knew our assistant rector was leaving, we reorganized and strengthened our team of staff and lay leaders specifically in preparation for coverage during the sabbatical. After a year of “regathering” Grace is now in a stable place, having intentionally prepared for this sabbatical, and the vestry, wardens, and other leaders consulted believe strongly that this timing is right and necessary.

What will she be doing?

Rev. Amy and her family will be traveling to the UK and France for seven weeks during the children’s summer vacation.  The trip will include pilgrimage to Taize, Chartres, Canterbury, Iona, and other sites of deep spiritual significance.  Rev. Amy will be engaging with church leaders around her study topic of “faithing”–how spiritual beliefs and practices make meaning of our world and sustain us through challenging circumstances.  They will also have time for fun and sight-seeing, including many Harry Potter filming locations, and connecting with old friends.  Amy will use the month “buffer” on either side of this trip for preparation and reentry, rest, reading, exercise, prayer and renewal, including a retreat at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, so that she will return to Grace refreshed and re-energized for our ministry together in a post-pandemic world.  You can read the full sabbatical proposal here.

How is the sabbatical funded?

Grace was fortunate to be one of 156 congregations across the United States selected to participate in the competitive National Clergy Renewal grant program funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and administered by Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. Established by the Endowment in 2000, the program’s grants allow Christian congregations to support their pastors with the gift of extended time away from their ministerial duties and responsibilities.  Over 30 Grace leaders were consulted in the preparation of the grant in the spring of 2021.  The grant includes $35,000 to cover most of Rev. Amy and her family’s expenses for their travel, and $15,000 to cover most of Bishop Alan’s salary as clergy-in-charge while she is away.  The congregation will continue to pay her salary and benefits while she is on sabbatical, as required by her letter of agreement and the Lilly Endowment guidelines.  Grace was awarded the maximum amount the Lilly Endowment grants for this program.  You can read the Endowment’s 2022 grantees press release here.

Who will cover Rev. Amy’s work while she is away?

Pulpit, Staff Oversight, Spiritual Formation, and Pastoral Care

Grace has been extremely fortunate to hire the Right Reverend Alan Scarfe, recently retired Bishop of Iowa, as ¾ time clergy-in-charge at Grace during the majority of time of Rev. Amy’s sabbatical.  Bishop Alan is originally from Yorkshire, England.  He was educated at Oxford and researched and worked in the field of human rights and religious freedom in Eastern Europe.  He attended General Seminary in New York, was ordained as an Episcopal priest, and served in the Diocese of Los Angeles for 18 years before being elected as Bishop of Iowa, where he also served for 18 years.  Bishop Alan is particularly interested in “seeing what sabbath time might look for a parish.”  We hope to find opportunities for renewal and strengthening in faith together, as a kind of sabbatical for the congregation while Rev. Amy is on her sabbatical.  Bishop Alan finds himself in that place of self-reflection, reviewing, and exploration after his retirement and looks forward to engaging the congregation in reflection on our own “faithing.”  You can read Bishop Alan’s introduction to the congregation here.

He will need to break up his time with us due to previous commitments in late June and early July, and Rev. Wendy will preside during those Sundays when he is away, with guest sermons from Fred Luskin and Pastor Audrey Ward.  

Office, Facilities, Administration

With a full-time administrator and additional support staff in communications, technology and finance, and a ¾ time extremely experienced clergyperson-in-charge, Grace could not be better prepared for this sabbatical.   The intentional work done with Rev. Anne’s departure means that  the staff are now well-equipped to handle most administrative issues and questions from parishioners and the wider community that come up with minimal input from clergy.  There are systems and people in place for weddings, baptisms, funerals, facilities rentals, and much more.

Sarah Neidhoefer, our now full-time Administrative Manager, who is fully qualified for every aspect of ministry except celebrating the sacraments, can be our go-to person for most things.  She has the same degree from Yale Divinity School as Rev. Amy and 20+ years professional ministry experience. 

Vestry and Leadership

The Vestry is well organized and prepared to “rise to the occasion” during Amy’s sabbatical as we continue to “reconnect and renew in 2022.”  They will be available for questions and concerns, will focus on communicating all the wonderful work being done at Grace, as well as shepherding the renewal of small groups, strengthening our “Sustaining Grace” stewardship efforts, engaging in invitational leadership, and continuing work on organizational health.  

We will publish a detailed list describing “who does what” before Rev. Amy leaves in May. 

Does this mean Rev. Amy is getting ready to leave Grace?

No!  In fact, because the sabbatical is intended for the benefit of the clergyperson and the congregation, Rev. Amy’s letter of agreement stipulates that she cannot leave Grace for at least a year and a half after returning from her sabbatical.  She is not planning to go anywhere anytime soon!

Is this related to Rev. Amy’s medical leave for depression in late 2021?

Not at all.  As noted above, this sabbatical was planned long before Rev. Amy needed to take a medical leave for surgery and an acute episode of major depressive disorder in November of 2021.  Rev. Amy returned on partial disability in December, and has continued to steadily improve in physical, mental and spiritual health since then.  She is returning to full time work in April.  Rather than a crisis, this sabbatical represents a grace-filled opportunity for Amy to truly take sabbath, to rest and renew, reconnecting with the spiritual source of her call and getting inspired for the future.

Can we be in touch with Rev. Amy while she is away?

As stipulated by the Lilly grant and as is customary for clergy sabbaticals, in order to truly decompress and reflect on her spiritual life away from the beloved congregation, Amy will be completely out of touch by phone, text, email, and social media during her four months away.  In cases of extreme emergency and at his discretion, Bishop Alan will know how to get a hold of her.  As she is able she will send occasional photos and updates of the pilgrimage-adventure to Ryan Cagle to include in e-news.  She looks forward to sharing about the time away and all that she has learned upon her return–and to hearing about our sabbatical time together with Bishop Alan as well.

Have more questions about sabbatical?  Feel free to reach out to Rev. Amy or Senior Warden Sara Rowan.