As many of you know I grew up in an agricultural culture. The distinct rhythms of this culture are embedded deeply in my DNA. There are seasons when you work from sun up to sun down, and there are other seasons that are a little more relaxed. Yet even in the more relaxed seasons, you never lose your awareness of how today’s weather will impact your crops.
Through the years I have served as bishop, people have often asked me about my life rhythm. The rhythm I’ve developed over time has formed into a daily discipline of prayer-meditation-reading-writing-exercising. This is how I start my day. This, coupled with ending my day in prayer, is how my mind, body and soul are nurtured. On top of this daily rhythm, I’ve developed a rhythm of engaging in both individual and group retreats throughout the year. I also have five people in my life who help to keep me healthy, grounded and balanced (I encourage all clergy, and ideally everyone, to have these people): a spiritual director, a therapist, a vocation coach, a friend and my beloved. I am also thankful to have a strong nuclear family, extended family, and a close group of long-time friends. The combination of all these continues to nurture and restore me on a regular basis so that I can do the work God calls me to do.
As some of you may know, every July through early August, my wife Staci and I take a working vacation to our little ranch (with a couple of trips back to Minnesota to be a part of our camps and other activities). My daily rhythm continues when I’m at our ranch. I am nourished and refreshed by spending time with family and life-long friends. At the same time, I stay engaged in the work of ECMN as we, together, generally enjoy a slower pace during that time. This rhythm has worked well both for my own personal rhythm and for that of ECMN. I enjoy staying connected and being available to help as needed. I have found, as bishop, there are some matters that need to be attended to sooner rather than later and I find it helpful to all concerned when I can respond in a timely fashion.
This coming summer, it is my intention to once again live into my regular practice of spending time at my ranch and staying connected with ECMN through phone calls, emails, texts, etc., and returning for camp and a couple of other events. This coming fall and into the beginning of the new year, I will be taking a working sabbatical. Like my summer working vacation, I will be spending time at the ranch and doing some other traveling. I will also continue to be connected with ECMN, and returning multiple times, particularly for ECMN-wide gatherings. I have chosen this model of a working sabbatical because it fits both my rhythm and that of ECMN.
Having said this, all full and part time clergy in ECMN are encouraged to take a sabbatical, as stated in their Letters of Agreement. Sabbaticals are not vacations. They are opportunities for clergy to spend time in reflection, renewal and discernment. The expectation is that the clergy person will be given time away from the faith community during their Sabbatical. Sabbaticals are for the benefit of the faith community. They are a great opportunity for the community to spend time reflecting and discerning where the Spirit is leading them. In my experience, sabbaticals are incredibly important in tending to the spiritual health and well-being of both the clergy and the faith community.
Many of you may be aware that I will be helping the Episcopal Church in Western Washington (Olympia) during my working vacation and as a part of my working sabbatical as Bishop Rickel takes a traditional sabbatical. His intention is to be on pilgrimage and engaging in deep discernment; both of which will be enhanced by having time and space for this work. I am happy to help him and the good folks of ECWW, as I have done for other dioceses in the past. I am looking forward to this working sabbatical plan because it compliments my rhythm and gives me the opportunity to experience and learn from a different ministry context.
My decision to take working vacations and a working sabbatical is the result of learning how I work and rest and refresh in order to fulfill my vocation at an optimal level. At the end of the day, what is most important is the creation of a holy rhythm in our lives that nurtures our minds, bodies and souls, so we can be as healthy as possible to engage God’s mission.