Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner. Therefore, I am planning for the end of this year and then for what I will be doing this summer and fall. When planning for sabbatical, I assumed that I could maintain either one large project or a few smaller ones. Since the last few years of ministry I've given rise to a number of questions for me, I chose the smaller ones. One of these is being fleshed out on this weblog under the heading "Burbania Folk". As I've mentioned before, it consists of a personal exploration into a number of folksongs.
The second project in order of priority is simply finding a way to become more religious. This may seem strange to some people but my colleagues will know what I'm talking about. The fact is, it is actually quite difficult at times to live a "faith filled" life (whatever that might mean) when one's job is helping other people lead there's. I love my job. However, when you do something you love for work it sometimes becomes difficult to remember what made you interested in it in the first place. We can all, for example, think of a number of professional athletes who retire early or who demand more money. We also know that when they do this many fans and reporters are incredulous! Those enthusiastic non-athletes would love to have the opportunity to play the game instead of whatever they are doing. We react the same way to musicians who stop touring and politicians who stop running for public office.
What we often don't realize is that when what you love to do for fun and fulfillment becomes what you do each day, the relationship changes. Pastoring is a way of life. The longer one does it the more it becomes part of the landscape. Over the years it becomes more difficult to notice the work as being unique, special, and different. It also becomes more difficult to find a method and a means for one's own spiritual development. This is one of the primary reasons for sabbatical in the first place. It is important for clergy to get back in touch with what originally called them to choose the spiritual life. To keep it simple, I have a two-step plan.
First, I need to find a church. This of course is not something that I am accustomed to. In fact, finding a church --for a minister on sabbatical--can be a rather difficult task. After all, we have the same challenges that everyone has. There's the family schedule. There are other tasks that need to be done. There are other plans for the weekend. Church attendance requires discipline no matter how frequently or infrequently one plans on attending.
I do have some ideas about what I would like to do. I know the kind of church that I enjoy attending. The challenge is to match my desires with reality. Right now I can think of to possible services I could attend regularly. One would require something of a commute into Boston but would be exciting and different. It is been a long time since I have been part of a city church. In seminary in Chicago I attended both First Unitarian and Second Unitarian before getting a job at the UU church in Evanston. Since then I have served rural churches and, of course, the Eliot Church here in the burbs. Each setting is different and has its own strengths. However, it would be nice to sit in the back of an urban sanctuary on Sunday morning once again. My other option is closer to home, more convenient, and yet quite different from where I work. It is also part of a denomination that I do not represent. This would be a good thing as it will force me to think in different ways.
I will probably check in on both at various times depending on other plans. Maybe I will even visit somewhere else. What is important, for me, is that it be different from Eliot enough so that I connect to it in a different way while still being close enough to my own theology that I get something out of it.
Second, I need to find ways to be religious in the community and at home. My question, quite simply, is how do I live a religious life without the anchor of my job? Many folks like to talk about their walks in the woods as a spiritual experience. Well, I also go for walks in the wood and sometimes it is spiritual. But is it adequate? No. there has to be more than an "opening up". The religious life needs a call and accountability.
I may come up with some kind of prayer or ritual eventually. My normal habits, however, tend more in the direction of reading and study. I suspect that over the months of sabbatical I will be posting more book recommendations than prayers. That is just what works for me.
That is all for now. I am still flushing out this part of sabbatical. With the changes in church life that have been escalating over the past decade or so, I have found myself curious about what life will be like in the "church of the future". People around the world are trying new and different ways for finding spiritual connection. Sabbatical is my chance to try a few things out as well.