Though it’s still hard to believe that in just three short months, my next sabbatical will begin, the reality is beginning to sink in, now that I have begun working on some of the growth processes I plan to focus on during that upcoming time away. I recently attended the first of several three-day training sessions in Bloomington, Indiana (one of my favorite cities and settings!) to learn the discipline known as “spiritual direction.”
The practice dates back centuries, to the Christian monastics, but in a modern, Unitarian Universalist context (the one in which I will be training, and working), spiritual direction is the practice of deep listening and helping others to discern the presence of the holy in their lives. Recognizing both the blessings and the challenges that we receive as gifts of the divine, we can grow in new directions, gain insights about our lives and their purpose, and experience deep appreciation of this life.
The spiritual direction (or, as I prefer, the more gentle-sounding “spiritual companioning”) training I am taking – which will include many more sessions during my sabbatical (also in Bloomington) – is geared toward congregational spiritual direction. I hope to incorporate spiritual direction into my ministry here at HUUC during the next church year.
Another sabbatical project I am eager to undertake is further study of the “green burial” movement in America, with the ultimate goal of becoming involved in a natural burial “startup” in our area – maybe even becoming the founder of a nature preserve and green burial sanctuary. Many of you will recall my sermon, last fall, about the environmental impact of our now-common land-wasting, nature-polluting modern American burial practices. Much like other earth-defiling, money-making industries in our society (the fossil fuel industry comes to mind), the American funeral industry has become a powerful lobby that simultaneously seeks to control legislative decisions for its own profit, while perpetuating myths and promulgating outright untruths about its practices and what is supposedly “best” for the consumer.
And talk about a “captive market”! Each one of us, at some point, will be a consumer for the funeral industry. But there is an environmentally friendly, perfectly natural, distinctively human and yet completely “green” way we can return our bodies to the earth at the time of our death. During my sabbatical, I will be touring the growing number of green burial sanctuaries in the U.S., speaking and studying with those who have started and continue to operate them, and learning the ins and outs of the laws and land-management policies that must be followed to successfully create such a sanctuary for others to enjoy.
To get that work started, I have arranged with the filmmakers who produced A Will for the Woods – a beautiful, award-winning documentary about one man’s fight to give his body back to nature upon his death – to offer the Cincinnati premiere of the movie in our own Heritage sanctuary. Not only will this be the first time this movie is shown to the public in Cincinnati, it will be only the second time it has screened in the Tri-State area.
I am proud that HUUC is offering this educational (and deeply moving) movie to the public, and I hope you will join me for this special night at Heritage on Friday evening, Nov. 14. The movie begins at 7 o’clock, and we will be serving light refreshments as well as offering information and opportunities for discussion and fellowship afterward.
A third area of focus for my sabbatical will be something you have no doubt heard about recently around church – “re-imagining” how we function and operate, in a 21st century model of church. To that end, I will also be traveling to visit other UU (and non-UU) congregations that appear to be thriving in new and innovative ways of “being church” in the 21st century.
You will hear more about my sabbatical plans in the months ahead, but I do want to address the four most common questions I have heard, already, from congregants as the sabbatical approaches:
When is this sabbatical? The six-month sabbatical period that I have earned begins in February and continues through July.
Who will handle worship? Our outstanding Worship Committee will be responsible for continuing to bring you high quality Sunday morning services throughout the entire sabbatical. The lineup of guest ministers and speakers that has already been arranged is nothing short of impressive, and I am confident you will have a great time on Sunday mornings in my absence.
Where are you going? While there are those ministers who take what I call “exotic” sabbaticals to study in Nepal or preach in New Zealand, that’s really not my style. From what you have already read above, you can see that most (if not all) of my traveling will be limited to the U.S. There are of course financial as well as personal considerations for this, but primarily I am simply more of a homebody than some folks. I’ll be here in town most of the time.
Will you come back? Of course! Not only do the contractual arrangements of UU ministerial sabbaticals require the minister to commit to continue to serve her or his congregation for at least 12 months following their return, I can tell you that I have never been happier or felt more settled in my ministry than I do now. I love Heritage Church and being its minister. And I love the idea of returning, well-rested, with fresh new ideas, for the next stage in our journey together.
As the time for my sabbatical approaches, you will be hearing more from me, from the Committee on Ministry, and from the Board of Trustees about the details, the policies, and the practices of this exciting six-month period. We will celebrate our shared accomplishments, and dream of future endeavors together. We will continue to worship, play and pray in community. There will be holidays and traditions to celebrate and maintain. May this time be rich with meaning and pregnant with possibilities.