Saturday, September 01, 2007

Rare Saturday post--dahlias and more dahlias.

I do not normally post on Saturdays. Today is a fun exception. I have about 50 varieties of dahlias in my garden. Today I am posting photos of several more dahlias. In the order that they appear (from top to bottom):

  1. Helen's Carl
  2. Oretti Adele
  3. Nanna's Kiss
  4. Sir Alf Ramsey
  5. Cream Kerkrade
  6. Aubry Grace

Friday, August 31, 2007

A sabbatical and the small church pastor: Possible funding and final thoughts.

Dahlia of the day: Hamilton Lillian..

Small churches may have a difficult time funding the pastor’s sabbatical. Obviously, the church is only on the hook for the pastor’s normal compensation, plus any study leave that the pastor uses during the sabbatical. Additional expenses for the church would include the expenses of temporary pastoral leadership and any other tasks that the church might need to hire out.

Lilly Endowment, Inc. funds grants to assist churches and pastors with sabbaticals. Check out their web site. Lilly funds as many as 120 grants each year, up to $45,000 per grant. I know a pastor that has received a Lilly grant. He is using his sabbatical to write and record worship music. He is a fabulous guitar player and vocalist. With the grant he is building a small recording studio behind his house. Another pastor I know is trying to receive a Lilly grant—he’s still waiting.

The Lilly web site has the following:

“Lilly Endowment seeks to strengthen congregations by providing an opportunity for pastors in 49 states to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. Renewal periods are not vacations, but times for intentional exploration and reflection, for drinking again from God's life-giving waters, for regaining the enthusiasm and creativity for ministry. The Endowment administers a separate program for Indiana congregations.

Life-giving experiences - strengthening relationships, renewing a sense of call, meeting and serving neighbors in a new way, finding joy and purpose in a simplified life, traveling to new lands and unfamiliar territory, creating opportunities where members of the congregation can exercise their gifts for ministry - all are common themes of the program. Profound discoveries that pastors and their congregations describe as "life-changing events" occur as they participate in this program.”

The Lilly grants may be perfect for some people. Some people want to work on a D. Min. while on sabbatical. Others, like my friend, may want to write Christian music. Still others may want to travel to historic sites in Scotland to draw deeper into their Presbyterian heritage. These types of things may be just what some pastors need for renewal—they must aren’t what I would need for renewal. I am not sure if a Lilly grant would be the ticket for me.

There is a new funding source for sabbaticals for small church pastors—the Board of Pensions of the PCUSA! I share this information with my readers with some hesitancy—I may want to apply for one of these grants! The program was recently approved by the Board of Pensions. They have not worked out any of the details. They plant to release all pertinent information this fall. Keep your eyes open—but please do not tell too many people about this new program until you and I have chance to apply for one of the grants. ;-)

What would I do if I were to be granted a sabbatical for three months? First, I would not let it be called a sabbatical; it would have to be called “A Time of Refreshment.” (I will keep calling it a “sabbatical” for this posting on the blog for simplicity’s sake) “Sabbatical” is too tied to study—I need a break from studying. The one thing that refreshes me is sailing. That’s the BIG catch. I don’t own a sailboat. I belong to a sailing club in Seattle and have access to a fleet of boats. Still, it would be prohibitively expensive to have to rent a boat for an extended period of time. We are not able to afford to buy an appropriate boat. The other catch has to do with my wife, Brenda. I wouldn’t want to be away from her for three months of sailing—that would be worse than not having a sabbatical. We have talked about cruising the Great Circle Route after we retire. This would probably be done on a power boat (I would have to go back to the “dark side” according to true sailors). I could do part of the Circle Route during a sabbatical. We could begin the trip together in Florida while Brenda was on vacation. Her employer (World Vision US) has offices in Washington, DC, and New York (she has been back at those offices this week). She might be able to work out of those offices for a while and join me on weekends for the part of the Circle Route that goes through the Chesapeake Bay and on up through New York State. This could be a possibility—a slim one. The boat is still the problem but an appropriate powerboat would be much less expensive than an appropriate sailboat. It would still mean that I would be away from Brenda for extensive amounts of time. A third option would be to cruise the canals of England. We spent a week on a canal boat a couple of years ago. We could cruise for a month for a very reasonable price. There is a timeshare company that has several canal boat bases. We could trade two or three weeks of our timeshares for cruising in England. It would only be for a few weeks. We could pay for an additional week or two. The problem remains—Brenda’s work. A final option for a sabbatical would be to cruise in England for a couple of weeks and then spend the rest of the time at home expanding my dahlia operation. Within a couple of years I plan on beginning to sell dahlia tubers. The problem with this plan is that the planned expansion may be completed before I go on sabbatical, if not; it would not take two or three months to complete. Then what would I do?

Concluding thoughts:

The idea of a sabbatical has me very conflicted. Here are some of my reasons:

  1. I struggle with a “sabbatical” for theological reasons. I firmly believe in spiritual gifts. Every Christ-follower has one or more spiritual gifts. It is the gifts given to me by the Holy Spirit that allow me to be a pastor. My gifts are no more important than any of the other gifts—they are different, that’s all. I don’t wear a preaching robe for this very reason—the robe says that my gifts are “better” than your gifts. (If you disagree with me on this point please read the relevant passages in the New Testament that talk about spiritual gifts). I don’t think that it is “fair” for a pastor to get a sabbatical because of his/her gift set when all of the rest of the folks in the congregation do not get one because of their gift set.
  2. It can be crippling for the small church to have the pastor gone for such an extended period of time. Is this the wisest thing for the good of the church?
  3. A pastor can get “refreshed” if vacation, study leave and weekly time off are used appropriately. There are times when the pastor has to work seven days a week. When this happens the church should make sure that the pastor takes additional days off to “make up” for the missed time off.
  4. (Those who read my blog from my church need to skip this section because I don’t want to be accused of “asking” for this) A church can surprise the pastor with “special” time off. I know of pastors who have been given the use of someone’s condo at the beach for a few days. I know of pastors who have been given the use of a mountain cabin for a few days. The church could give the pastor a weekend off (not vacation), expenses paid, to go away for a romantic weekend with his/her spouse. There are creative things that churches can do to help the pastor stay refreshed.
  5. (Those who read my blog from my church need to skip this section because I don’t want to be accused of “asking” for this) One pastor in our Presbytery goes to the clergy/spouse retreat every year—he is on the leadership team for the retreat with me. “Someone” at his church sneaks a gift basket into his office prior to the retreat each year. He never takes it for granted that the “gift” will be there. Yet, each year he knows that some of the folks in his congregation want him to know that he is appreciated and cared for. Little things like this keep the pastor refreshed—without having to go away for an extended time.

I hope that my ramblings on the topic of “sabbaticals and the small church pastor” have contributed to the dialog of keeping the small church pastor healthy and refreshed for ministry. In days-gone-by a pastor would move every two or three years. This was unhealthy for most churches. What it did do though was to unintentionally provide a “fresh start” for the pastor every few years. This fresh start was usually accompanied with the “honeymoon” year for the pastor at the new church. Today, longer pastorates have been healthier for small churches but have resulted in more pastors burning out. Something has to be done to keep our pastors healthy and refreshed. IT IS UP TO THE LOCAL CHURCH! We cannot depend on the Presbytery to do this. In eleven years at Evergreen I have NEVER had a person from Presbytery come out to visit me (or my church) to see how I was doing. Fortunately, I serve a fabulous church! If the local church truly wants its pastor to stay for the long haul then the church must find appropriate ways for the pastor to find rest and refreshment.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A sabbatical and the small church pastor: Part 4.

Dahlia of the day: Fuzzy Wuzzy.

The small church can benefit from the pastor going on a sabbatical or time of refreshment.

Many years ago I served as the Associate Pastor of a church in Central Washington Presbytery. Shortly after arriving at that church the PCUSA pastor in a nearby town announced that he was moving. The senior pastor of the church I was serving went down to lead worship on the first Sunday that the other pastor was gone. He was shocked at what he discovered. That pastor had done EVERYTHING for that church. No one there knew how to turn on the heat in the sanctuary. It took a while for people to figure out how to turn on all of the lights in the sanctuary. I don’t believe that they were able to figure out how to use the sound system. The pastor had been at the church for 25 years and had always done all of those things. (I have no idea of what they did when he went on vacation.) The church had to find people to do all of the many tasks that the pastor had done.

It could be very healthy for the smaller churches to have the pastor “gone” for a period of time. People would need to be found to cover all of the things that the pastor does. People would have a greater “ownership” of their church.

Notice—this could be very threatening for some pastors. Many pastors have the need to be needed. We do things that other people could be doing. Why? So that the church will “need” us.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Taking a sabbatical from talking about sabbaticals. (I will pick it up tomorrow)

Dahlia of the day: Keewatin Pioneer.

The alarm went off way too early this morning. In a semi-conscious condition my mind tried to justify staying in bed. My body was saying, “Close the eyes and sleep until a decent hour.” Today is the men’s breakfast at the “Golden Arches.” We don’t try to solve the world’s problems. We don’t study the Bible. We don’t try to solve the church’s problems. All we do is have breakfast together—a few men from the church starting the day together. Gary drives a school bus—this is his last “breakfast” until Christmas vacation. Still, my body tried to convince my eyes to close and let the bliss of sleep return.

Sleep. There has been way too little sleep in the past few days. My brain quickly recounted the reasons for missing sleep in the past couple of days. Sunday morning started with me leaving the house at 4:25 am to pick up our son at airport (Brenda is back east for her work). A quick shower and then off to church. My brain is telling my body, “The nap will take place this afternoon!” Church goes well. Lots of people stay for our fellowship time. Then its time for the Deacon meeting—it is the last meeting for two of our deacons, two new deacons will come on board at the September meeting. What a great group of folks who selflessly give and give and give to the folks at our church. Prayer. Cards. Phone calls. Meals. There are so many needs in an older congregation. Praise God for these people who work behind the scenes. I am more than willing to by pass the nap to spend time with these saints.

Sleep? Following the Deacon meeting I rush home to have an afternoon dinner with our son before he heads up to Bellingham, WA, to be with his college friends. At least he was able to get a few hours of sleep! Dinner, cleanup and a quick vacuum of the living room and it is time for the Session meeting at our house (for you non-Presbyterian types, the “Session” is our church board which is made up of “elders”). Sleep has to be postponed again. A fabulous meeting with our elders!! The meeting is long but not a moment is a waste of time. The Bible study in Ephesians is wonderful, uplifting and challenging. Then… my cell phone beeps—a text message from our mission team that is on the way back from Alaska. The plane is late! Let me digress for a moment. I was supposed to be on that trip. Our high school youth group was going to Kake, Alaska, to serve at our sister church. Our youth leader had never led a mission trip. I have led mission trips to Alaskan native villages many, many times over the years (several times to Kake). My “health concerns” meant that I couldn’t go on the trip with them. My involvement had been limited to driving the van to drop them off at the airport and then going back to pick them up. None of these students had ever been on a mission trip before. Back to the session meeting…

As the session meeting progresses I receive periodic text messages from the airport in Juneau. God is in control of both situations. The meeting is over. The plane has just arrived from Anchorage and is about to depart. Sleep?? Oh well… Darrel and I head to the airport at 12:50 am. Darrel has a HUGE truck, with canopy, that is perfect for all of the luggage. We are both tired but we know our team is almost home. The mission team returns to the church at 2:50 am—full of excitement, on the verge to exhaustion, bouncing off the walls (except we were outside) due to their excitement about their faith and how they had gone on the trip expecting to help others and found that their lives had been transformed. Sleep—who needs sleep. By 3:45 am I am home and getting ready for sleep. Sleep!

Monday morning… not enough sleep. My plan had been to drive across the Cascade Mountains to visit a dear lady. Kate has been a member of Evergreen for ages and ages. Kate has almost no money. She has never been a “mover and shaker” at the church. She is just one of the people who call Evergreen home. Kate has cancer and is not expect to live more than a few more weeks. Many months ago she had gone over to visit her son and had to be admitted into the hospital in Ellensburg. She almost died. After several weeks they released her to an Ellensburg nursing home. No friends in that town. Her son lives half an hour outside of town. I would drive over and visit with Kate. I could visibly see how her condition deteriorated between visits. She couldn’t receive her cancer treatments while she was in the nursing home (the treatments were just to try and slow down the aggressive type of cancer that she has). Monday morning I thought about closing my eyes and going back to sleep. I could go a visit Kate another day. Maybe I could spring free on Wednesday! Sleep? Kate might not be alive on Wednesday or some other “emergency” could come up. After a quick breakfast and shower I go out to the dahlias and select blossoms from nine varieties and put together an arrangement for Kate. A stop to gas up the Explorer and I am the road. I can sleep when I get back. What a gal!! I am so glad that I went to see Kate! (Note: she loved the dahlias J)

That brings me back to this morning. As I wrestle with the thought of closing my eyes and going back to sleep I think about the past 48 hours. And then I realize that it isn’t about “me.” Gary, Tony, Herb and Ken will all be missing sleep to be at breakfast. Darrel missed sleep to transport the mission team back to the church. Kate’s son and granddaughter miss sleep every night as they take care of her (someone has to be up with her at all times). The “oldest” lady in our church misses sleep every day as she takes cares for her husband (the oldest guy at the church) who has Alzheimer’s. Sleep?

This afternoon people will not be able to reach me. I am going home early, turning off the cell phone and taking a nap. I know that without sleep I will not be much use to the church.

At times it may seem as though I get down on Evergreen. The folks at Evergreen Presbyterian Church are great—it is a wonderful place to live and serve. It is filled with imperfect people: people who make mistakes, people who have struggles in their lives, people who are trying to serve Christ and love people. We live and minister in one of the most unchurched areas of the country. Coach Holmgren of our Seattle Seahawks pushes his team relentlessly. He sees how much they have accomplished in the past five years—yet, he keeps on pushing. He knows that there is still room for growth. He is proud of what his team has accomplished but still he pushes. His passion has transformed the team. Quarterbacks and receivers get together throughout the off season to refine their timing and skills. A record number of players take part in the off season conditioning program. The coach still pushes. His players know that he pushes himself harder than he pushes them—they love and respect him. I would never put myself on the same level as Coach Holmgren. I see the many ways our church and its people make a difference in our community. Still, I push them—and myself.

Sleep? Yes, we need rest—I need rest. Many of our folks need rest and sleep. Very few people see what goes on behind the scenes of the local church. The couple that stays up with their premature baby… The husband who cares for the sick wife… The wife who cares for her ailing husband… The guy on the roof of the church trying to keep the building together… The choir members sorting music… The musicians practicing… Meals being delivered to those who can’t prepare them… The couple (they don’t have lots of $$$) who make a major contribution so that the youth group can fly to Alaska… The guy who quit one job to take a night job so that he can go back to college to better his family… The couple that has reached out to some foster kids… The people who fill boxes with food for those in need down at the food bank… The people who drive the “shut ins” to doctor appointments… The list could go on and on and on. A bunch of imperfect people who love Christ and are trying to make a difference. Still, I push—myself and my church. Sleep? Maybe a nap will do.