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Taking Time to Renew

Pastor David Parsons

Pastor David Parsons reflects on the benefits of his four-month sabbatical — to himself and his congregation.

Pastor David Parsons

St. John – St. Mathew – Emanuel Lutheran Church
Brooklyn, New York
January 2015

On Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014, I presided at worship at St. John-St. Matthew-Emanuel Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, NY, for the first time since taking a four-month sabbatical. How did I feel? 60 pounds lighter, and rejuvenated in body and spirit.

My plan for transformation began at our Jan. 2014 Council meeting. I asked the leadership of the church to consider my proposal for a three-month period of physical and spiritual renewal, which would begin in July. They offered their enthusiastic support, with just one caveat: they asked that I take four months, "so that you really get the full benefit of the experience." As you can see, I am blessed with a caring, supportive congregation.

Goal #1: My Physical Well-Being

Since one of my main goals was increased physical fitness, I decided to use Lent as a "jump start." On March 3, Ash Wednesday, I weighed 252 pounds – the heaviest I have ever been in my life. I committed to eating no sweets or added sugar for the period of Lent, and to abstain from any eating after 9:00 p.m. That helped me lose 10 pounds during Lent.

I started working with a physical trainer one month before my sabbatical formally began. By the end of my sabbatical, I weighed 192 pounds — a 60-pound weight loss. My "secret formula": Eat less, eat at the right times, and work out more.

Goal #2: My Spiritual Renewal

As gratifying as my physical transformation has been, even more wonderful are the spiritual benefits of four months of meditation, prayer, and reading, as well as four week-long spiritual retreats, each involving a component of spiritual direction combined with more intense physical exercise.

Sabbaticals Benefit Pastors and Congregations

But wait (as the infomercial says), there's more! The church I serve had also undergone a transformation during my sabbatical, developing and deepening their many gifts for servant leadership. The week of my return, two key leaders met with me and spoke of their plans to write to our Bishop and commend the experience to other churches because it had been so positive for our church. I am richly blessed. Praise God!

Per the guidelines provided by the Pastors Compensation form of the Metropolitan New York Synod (where I serve), if a pastor has served in a current call for five years or more, and has been ordained for seven years or more, it is appropriate to discuss a sabbatical with leadership. Check your synod’s guidelines if you're interested. A sabbatical need not be incredibly expensive. Mine was not: My retreats were all within a four-hour drive of my home, all at relatively modest accommodations, including one that provided free pastoral respite.

I hope that my experience is useful to some who read these words. As pastors, we experience many times of great joy, as well as times of incredible stress. A time away for rest and rejuvenation can benefit both pastor and congregation. God bless you on your journeys.

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