by Rev. Leslie Woodward
If you’ve been following this thread, either in the Heirloom, on Facebook or through email, you know that my sabbatical begins August 1st. What in tarnation is a sabbatical, you ask?
A sabbatical is a very old concept that relates to a period of rest or refreshment, usually after six years. The root is from the word “Sabbath”, the biblical term, meaning the day of rest after six days of labor. Unitarian Universalist congregations typically grant their ministers, and increasing their religious educators, a sabbatical period with full pay in recognition of the all-consuming nature of ministry. The result can lead to new directions of thought and growth.
Sabbatical leave offers an extended time for study, reflection, rest, and renewal—all ingredients for effective ministry. More practically, it is part of the Heritage UU Church’s contract with me as your Assistant Minister for Religious Education. Indeed, the congregation benefits as I return filled with new ideas and with rekindled energy. Further, it offers the congregation the opportunity to step up to fill some of my responsibilities and gain greater understanding and ownership of our religious education programs.
So, what do I plan to do while on sabbatical?
My primary learning plan includes in-depth study of the concept of “family ministry.” Traditional religious education programming in Unitarian Universalist congregations is child-focused — intended to educate children in our faith and provide learning opportunities to help children find a spiritual path, almost exclusively through Sunday morning RE offerings. What if instead, our programming centered on families recognizing that adults within a family, be they parents, grandparents, guardians or other caring adult presence, are the primary religious educators of their children and youth?
Our evangelical counterparts have embraced the idea that ‘churches don’t let parents parent alone.’ What could that mean for us as Unitarian Universalists? What does family ministry look like throughout the lifespan? How do we support all family caregivers on their spiritual paths, whether these caregivers are caring for children, youth, their partners, or perhaps even their own parents? What does it look and feel like to recognize families as the primary religious educators for their children and youth, providing them with the knowledge and support to not only find their own spiritual path but also guide their young people?
What else do I plan to do?
Dance. Attend a family wedding in Boston. Start an RE blog. Sit in a hot tub and look at the stars. Dance some more. Work with a spiritual director. Take an improv class. Spend time with my family. Did I mention dancing? Read about decentering whiteness. Vacation in Japan. Visit UU and UCC churches. Get a tattoo. Oh yes, and dance.
Take good care of yourselves, dear ones. I will see you again soon.