Sabbatical: A Time of Rest

Rev. Claire Feingold Thoryn

In the first books of the Bible, God spends six jam-packed days in the throes of creation, and then on the seventh day, God rests. That rest must have felt pretty good, because later, God includes rest in the 10 commandments, created to help humans live good lives. The commandments tell us not to kill, not to cheat, not to steal, and more. The simplest, easiest rule is one of the hardest to follow: honor the sabbath, a time of rest.

We have spent six jam-packed years together in the throes of creation, and as I enter my seventh year, I will receive your generous gift of rest—a sabbatical. I’ll be on leave June 15 through December 14. Thank you!

A minister’s sabbatical is a time for rest and renewal. The vocation of ministry is one of the last “generalist” careers, where we are supposed to be able and willing to do…everything. Ministry asks us to bring everything we have to the table: our deepest thinking, heartfelt emotions, soulful prayers, careful judgements, decisive actions, collaborative spirits, attentive listening, and stirring preaching. Over time, our well runs dry. Or, to use a metaphor better suited to our techie world, no matter how much I try to plug in, my battery can’t reach a full charge.

To refill my well and replace my battery, I have a few plans. One colleague advised me to make sure I planned three things: something for me; something for me and my spouse; and something for my whole family. Here’s how I’m doing that: from June 15-June 22 I’ll be on a walking trip with the poet and author David Whyte in Ireland on the theme of “Poetry, Myth and Music.” I have long loved David Whyte’s work—you’ve heard me quote him many many times—and this trip, coming at the beginning of my leave, will help me transition and set intentions and goals for this special time. Then, in October, Ben and I will take our kids on a long-anticipated trip to Disney World. In November, Ben and I will go on a special week-long trip just the two of us while Grandma watches the kids. That encompasses my sabbatical travel, both because travel is expensive, and my family and I need to stay local for Ben’s job and the kid’s schooling!

I also plan to do a lot of reading, writing, and art. I’ll take art classes, paint, take long walks and hikes. And some really simple things are calling to me: being home for the kids’ bed times because I won’t have evening meetings, and having weekends!

During the summer months, lay leaders will preach at summer services. These lay leaders took my preaching class and they will be ready to offer you their well-crafted stories and theological reflections with open hearts. It will be a gift to hear them.

From August 15 through December 14, Follen will welcome sabbatical minister Rev. Tom Schade, who will serve half-time and preach about twice a month. Here is more information about Tom.

These months will be a luxuriously long break for me, but a relatively short time in the life of a church that has been around for more than 179 years. I know Follen will be fine—and part of my spiritual practice is allowing everything to be removed from my hands and given back to you. I love my work and it can be very hard to put down. Yet I must, to be a healthy leader. I treasure the opportunity to learn, grow, and seek balance in this way.

I hope that you too, will see this time as a sabbatical period. Some things that always happen, don’t have to happen. The hugely time-consuming work of living through a building project will be done, and we will be home again. Let’s all take a big deep breath of relief and revel in this moment. We will finally be able to say: “We did it!” and “It’s over!” We all need a sabbath, a time of rest and recharging before we figure out what our mission calls us to do next.

A sabbatical is a big privilege and one I do not take lightly.  I will bring my renewed and refreshed spirit back to you, to continue to give you my best work.

In faith, hope, and love,

Rev. Claire