Sabbatical is based on the Biblical notion of rest (or Sabbath) being an essential part of the rhythm of life, as modeled by God resting on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2:2). Because it is a part of dedicating our life to God and also a guard against the idolatry of believing in our own centrality and indispensability, the punishment the law assigned to violating the Sabbath was death (Exodus 31:14). Clearly, this is important stuff!
I am not just taking this sabbatical because I am owed it (it is a part of every clergy letter of agreement), because Chapter has granted it and because scripture demands it. I am taking it because both I and this Cathedral community need it.
During our seven years together, one of my highest priorities has been us growing healthier as the Body of Christ. Together we have established more honest and healthier patterns of communication, talked openly about the role of alcohol and addiction in our family systems, opened our doors to the neighborhood and city in new ways and also been unafraid to bring the conflicts and divisions of race and class of our city into our own community.
Your chapter has transitioned from a model of more autocratic, clergy-driven leadership to a model of shared leadership where difficult issues are wrestled with openly and the real conversations happen around the table not in the parking lot.
Systems do not get healthier than their leaders … and I am recognizing the ways I need to get healthier -- both for my sake and for yours. I work too many hours and spread myself to thinly. I too easily fall victim to the idolatry of believing that I have to do it if it is to happen and not trust enough in God and the gathered community.
That has taken a toll on me. I have not been operating at full capacity for several months, and my Bishop, Vicar, wardens, therapist, doctor and wife all agree I need a time of unplugging, recharging and reconnecting with family and God apart from the work of ministry.
There has been a toll on the Cathedral as well. As much as we have worked together to build structures of shared leadership, my overfunctioning runs the risk of turning the Cathedral into a system not centered on the Holy Spirit working through the Body of Christ but on the person and personality of her dean.
That’s why this sabbatical is for all of us. We are a far healthier body today than seven years ago – ready to face the challenges ahead of us. And part of that readiness means I can step away for a season, and we all can trust God’s grace and the people of this Cathedral will be up to the task.
Given how we have talked about what a critical year this is for Christ Church Cathedral – facing a $200K+ budget deficit -- this might seem like a strange time for a sabbatical, but Chapter agreed it is actually the perfect time.
Because of the transition we have made into shared leadership your Chapter is absolutely equipped to lead during this time – and in fact it is the healthiest thing.
During my sabbatical, Chapter will be constructing options for a balanced budget for 2017. Some options will likely involve staff restructuring (it is hard to imagine making up a $200K+ deficit without it) and that means all staff jobs – including my own – will be on the table. Your Chapter – and indeed the larger congregation -- is well equipped to have those conversations without me … and in fact it is important we all trust one another to do that.
In addition, the financial realities we are facing for 2017 mean it is a real possibility we will only be able to be a one-clergy congregation going forward. Though we are lining up clergy to help out Amy during my absence, this will be an important exercise in seeing what that reality would be like.
During the next two and a half months, we will have opportunities to talk about what all this means – and certainly I am happy to meet with anyone about any excitements, questions or concerns.
As we approach our time apart, I ask that you consider what this might mean for you stepping up in new ways in our community … and also how you might specifically support the work of and care for your Chapter and especially your Vicar, Amy Cortright, who will be under added strain during this time.
I look forward to our next two and half months together, to our time apart, and to sharing what we have learned when we come together again.