Growing in Love of God and Neighbor

Sabbatical Q & A

What is sabbatical?
The idea of sabbatical comes from scripture. In God’s commandments to the people of Israel, everyone is to observe a time of rest every seven days (Exodus 20:9-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15) to imitate God, who rested, and to give thanks for God’s action in freeing the people. In addition, the faithful community observes a year of sabbath, refraining from planting or harvesting fields, to let both land and people renew themselves in God’s service (Leviticus 25:1-6).  Sabbatical leave for church leaders following those models has become a “best practice” in the church.

The Diocese of New Jersey Sabbatical Policy explains: “Sabbatical Leave is a period of planned time of intensive enhancement for ministry and mission. It is not vacation, but a renewal period for a cleric’s sense of vocation. A balanced renewal program includes opportunities for exploration, reflection, rest, and recreation. A well-designed sabbatical enables the strengthening or even re-discovery of enthusiasm and creativity in ministry.”

Sabbatical leaves vary somewhat between denominations in the church, and among other fields that offer them. In general, however, they are defined by stopping – resting from – the primary work of the profession for a period of time, and usually by using that time for some form of renewal or growth, which can be formal or informal study, work on a different project or interest, travel, or any other form of renewing activity.

Sabbatical in the Diocese of NJ is a period of 10-14 weeks of paid time off for this purpose of renewal. Sabbatical leave is earned at the rate of two weeks for every year of service, and is available to be used beginning at the 5th year and cumulative through the 7th.  

What will Mother Emily be doing during sabbatical?
Mother Emily will be exploring the theology and spirituality of keeping sabbath, and how to practice or observe sabbath, in a modern life. Much of the time will be spent in reading, reflection, conversation and prayer. She will also be taking retreat time at Holy Cross Monastery in New York, traveling to England to practice resting in God with sacred music and in sacred spaces, and achieving a long-term dream of spending time at Cubs Spring Training in Arizona, renewing the spiritual connections she finds in watching baseball, as well as visiting with family in the area.

Why do priests get a sabbatical when most of the rest of us don’t?
The work of a priest requires resilience, creativity, and patience, as well as deep spiritual roots, and those need to be renewed outside the workplace on a regular basis. A priest’s work also cannot be contained to a regular five-day work week, so it is difficult to maintain regular patterns of work and rest, and it has become a recommended best practice for priests to take fully disconnected sabbatical time every 5 – 8 years to recharge.

Academic institutions offer paid sabbatical time to faculty for similar reasons, and a few other professional fields are beginning to experiment with sabbatical leave.

One reason the Diocese of New Jersey, like many dioceses and churches, requires that sabbatical time be included in every priest’s letter of agreement (contract) is that the concept of sabbatical is biblically rooted, and is a spiritual practice, which improves the work of clergy.

Who’s in charge at Trinity while Mother Emily is gone?
The Wardens, with the support of the Vestry, hold the canonical (church law) and legal authority of the church in the absence of the Rector.  Any matters regarding the business of the church that would normally begin with Mother Emily should begin with the Wardens during the sabbatical leave. Mother Angie will hold the Rector’s delegated authority on liturgical (worship) and pastoral matters. All the church staff, and lay volunteers, will continue to take responsibility for the administrative and programmatic matters that they already manage, consulting with either the Wardens or Mother Angie on matters that they would normally bring to Mother Emily.

What will change at Trinity while Mother Emily is away?
The day-to-day life of Trinity should not change much in this period. Worship and regular classes and existing programs will go on much as usual. We will not be planning and managing new initiatives or programs, and the pace of church life and business may slow down a bit.

Since Mother Angie, the wardens, and the staff will be picking up various parts of the day-to-day management and decision-making while Mother Emily is away, they may be slower to respond to non-urgent messages or questions, or ask you to hold on to a good idea, or some activity planning, until Mother Emily is back. 

Much of a Rector’s responsibility consists of behind-the-scenes work in long-term planning, leader development, and the management of the many activities, interests, and needs of the congregation. This “big-picture” work will be on hold while Mother Emily is away.

We are working on setting up support to assist Mother Angie as she takes on primary responsibility for worship and pastoral care, so you may also see unfamiliar clergy taking on some preaching or pastoral work during February and March.

How will Mother Emily stay in touch during sabbatical?
In accordance with the diocesan policy and guidelines, Mother Emily will not be “checking in” or receiving emails during the leave time, and the congregation will be asked not to text or call her.  All pastoral matters will be directed to Mother Angie, and business matters of the congregation will be directed to the Wardens, while other Trinity staff will handle administrative matters. In emergencies, the Wardens and Mother Angie will be able to contact Mother Emily directly. 

What does this cost the congregation?
There should be no direct impact on our 2023 budget.

For several years, the Vestry has been planning ahead and setting aside unused Professional Development and Continuing Education funds into a savings account to help fund sabbatical time for our clergy.

Some of those funds will be used to pay costs for the congregation, especially for supplemental pastoral support, and some of those funds will be used to pay for some of Mother Emily’s study and renewal activities during the sabbatical. We have secured a grant from the Diocese of New Jersey Sabbatical Grant Fund (supported by individual and congregational donations), which will allow us to to retain at least a quarter of our current designated funds for future clergy or staff sabbatical leave.