I am slowing down, as I ease into a 13 week Sabbatical. “Sabbatical” comes from the same root as “sabbath”, and it’s the same idea – every seven years you should rest, reflect, renew.
While I am away, my congregation is moving forward with the religious education program that I had helped them plan and prepare. Other staff members are picking up more hours to cover the administration tasks, and the members of the Family Ministry Team are all taking on portfolios. I handed my story books off to the Worship Arts Committee, so the celebrants can tell the story for all ages.
I’m only just into the second week of the sabbatical, but already I see these important reasons why congregations should offer this to their professional religious educator:
1. It requires cross-training to prepare for it, and you will end up with a greater depth on the bench with folks ready to step up to bat if your religious educator ever becomes unavailable (illnesses and accidents do happen to even the best of us!)
2. It is almost like a mini-interim year, because it is different enough that it confronts us with the question “why are we doing things this way?” Is it because it’s the right way to do it, or is it because that’s just the way we’ve always done it? Here is a chance to try doing things a different way, and maybe you’ll discover you like it.
For instance, I was always doing all the materials prep for classes during the week between each Sunday. To prepare for the sabbatical, I did all the supply purchasing at once (epic shopping!), and then we had a work party to sort it all into pre-prepared lesson-packs with the dates they will be used written on them. Although this was A Lot of work, it felt more efficient than spreading the work out over the whole session. I plan to do this again in the future, even when I’m back to regular scheduling.
3. Ideally, a religious educator (like a minister) is bringing inspiration, information, and general awesomeness to their role in the congregation. After a while, though, you’ve heard all their stories, they’ve already told you their ideas, and then what? Study, retreats, service trips, conferences, classes, personal spiritual practice, adventures, and sabbaticals are all tools for keeping your religious educator fresh and interesting. Each experience will be brought back to the congregation in one form or another.
4. Some projects are so big they can’t get done in the midst of the normal grind. Whether it is writing a book, finishing up religious credentialing, creating a new curriculum or a resource website, it’s going to take time and focus. Supporting your religious educator with the gift of that time can benefit the entire denomination (or world?) when those projects can be birthed.
5. Religious Educators are also in a caring profession, and spend a great deal of energy thinking of and caring for others. I’m already finding that a sabbatical forces me to spend more time thinking about myself than I am used to. This is important work, to get to know myself better and to give the same gifts of healing and teaching to myself that I constantly offer to others. Once again, the benefit to the congregation will be a stronger religious educator will walk back through the door.
And I thank my congregation for having the vision to see all of this as important!