Life adventures

I have been a strong supporter of sabbaticals for professionals. The standard in academics is different from that in other professions, but sabbaticals for pastors have been common for all of our careers. The Lily Endowment has conducted extensive research into clergy sabbaticals and has concluded that they strengthen the relationship between pastor and parish and renew energy and spirit for ministry. The Endowment continues to support clergy sabbaticals through clergy renewal grants to congregations. Although I have worked with each call of our ministry to develop sabbatical plans and policies that serve the church, the first two parishes that we served were not able to grant sabbatical leave to us. We were able to negotiate a couple of extra weeks for continuing education some years, but that was about it until we began to serve in Rapid City. Over the twenty five years of our service there, I was able to take four sabbaticals, in 2001, 2006, 2010 and 2018. Although the church policy allows for sabbatical after five years of service, the timing of the sabbaticals is influenced by many other factors including the mission and programs of the church and the personal needs of the family. For example, our 2010 sabbatical was timed to allow for sabbatical funds, saved by the congregation, to be used to support the hiring of a new minister for the congregation. The policy at 1st Congregational United Church of Christ allows for a sabbatical of three months at full salary after five years of service. The congregation sets aside funds each year to pay for the expenses of the sabbatical, primarily the costs of interim pastoral leadership while the pastor is away. We paid our own expenses for travel and study during our sabbaticals with the exception of the 2006 sabbatical, which was funded by a grant from the Lily Endowment.

As a result, I have a feel for what it is like to take a three-month break from work. Three months is enough time to fully disengage from the routines of daily work and to focus energies on rest and renewal. Each time I went on a sabbatical, I returned with fresh energy and enthusiasm for the work of the church. And each sabbatical included the process of gearing up for the return to work.

Although it has only been a couple of years since our last sabbatical, it feels very much like we have been on sabbatical this summer. As we come to the end of our second month of retirement, I am sure that the reality of being retired hasn’t yet sunk into my life. I know in my head that things are different, but I also know that it will take more than a few months to discover a new pace and a new way of being.

The pandemic also has had an impact on how we feel and how we have been acting during our retirement. In the past vacations and sabbaticals included opportunities to worship as members of different congregations. I would listen to sermons instead of deliver them. I would participate in liturgy as a congregant rather than a worship leader. Although I might occasionally trip up and read the “leader” part in a litany, I enjoyed the opportunity to worship without having to be the leader. During the pandemic, however, we have been worshiping online over social media, which is definitely not the same as being int he midst of a congregation.

It isn’t just worship. We have been traveling quite a bit during this phase of our retirement. We are heading home to South Dakota today after our second trip to Washington State. We had planned to travel at a slower pace in retirement, taking more time to stop and hike and explore the beautiful country through which we are traveling. However, in a time when travel is discouraged and contact with others must be strictly controlled, it is easier to simply make our miles and not stop as often. A fuel stop is often just that, a few minutes to add fuel to the truck. We have been packing our meals or eating carry-out rather than risking contact with strangers. We do stop and take walks as we travel, but even that requires planning and care to make sure that we are being safe.

And we are getting used to wearing face coverings. Yesterday I read a sign on a store that said, “Face masks required for service.” It was right next to a sign that said, “Shirts and shoes required.” I guess the establishment had not yet found it necessary to put up a sign requiring pants, thought I suspect that they would be reluctant to serve someone wearing a face mask, shirt, and shoes but no pants. I watched construction workers installing a new septic system and they were wearing masks as they operated the machines and as they installed the plumbing. Fortunately the day wasn’t too hot, but I’m sure they have been wearing masks all summer long.

We have obtained several face masks so that we can wash them regularly, and we are getting used to wearing them whenever we are out in public, but it will take more time before they feel natural to us. Still, doing what we can to help prevent the spread of the virus is important to us, so we are doing our best.

I keep saying, “We are living in strange times.” There is a lot of uncertainty in our communities as the effects of the pandemic stretch out. At a time when back to school is the norm, there is nothing normal about the various plans that school districts have developed. Some are organized and have done a good job of communicating with students. Others are struggling to meet the minimum needs of some students. Many students have lost contact with their schools and are receiving no education. Although school districts have had six months to adjust, they have a lot more work to do before we can have a sense that all children have access to education.

I don’t know how much of my unsettled feelings are coming from retirement and how much from the pandemic, but unsettled is a good description of my life right now. Our grandson said last night, “I like the adventure of finding out what is going to happen.” I hope I can match a bit of his enthusiasm. Life is an adventure.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!