NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nearly 120 congregations were collectively awarded $4.5 million in grants to provide sabbaticals for their pastors. The 4-year-old National Clergy Renewal Program of the Lilly Endowment awards diverse congregations grants of up to $45,000 each to plan a "well-thought-out, intentional program of renewal for their pastor and themselves.”
Congregations from 33 states and 16 Christian denominations and other faith traditions may use up to $15,000 of their grant money to pay for pastoral services in their pastor’s absence and for congregational renewal expenses, said Gretchen Wolfram, communications director for the Lilly Endowment.
Among the 117 participating pastors was the Rev. Jonathan R. Almond of the Mathewson Street United Methodist Church in Providence, R.I. Almond, who has not had a sabbatical in 36 years will take four months to relax, reflex and “recharge [his] batteries” next fall.
"I have not had any type of sabbatical in 36 years of ministry." Being away from his congregation will be "somewhat intimidating," but he knows that ministry will continue without him, he said.
Almond and the other pastors will tour religious and spiritual sites, as well as visit theological centers and churches similar to theirs. Times of travel, study, rest and prayer are designed to help the pastors enhance their spiritual lives.
"I will be looking at the role of the church in issues around racism and the ministry that the center-city churches provide," Almond said.
Almond also will compile a portfolio of watercolor paintings of his experiences and the places he visits. He intends to display his collection in a gallery showing in Providence at the end of his sabbatical.
"People do not realize how intense a pastor’s life can be," said Craig Dykstra, the endowment’s vice president for religion. "He or she fills many roles that can become overwhelming." The clergy renewal program "gives pastors time to take an extended leave" and "renew neglected spiritual disciplines," he continued.
The program also aims to give congregations a new sense of mission and purpose as they assume additional responsibilities in their pastors’ absences. According to Dykstra, while the pastor is away, many congregations engage in activities that often mirror their pastor’s work. Numerous churches take the opportunity to learn about their denomination, study how similar congregations have overcome common challenges and concentrate on building their spiritual life.
"In our religion grant-making, we hope to strengthen the efforts of today’s excellent pastors because it is no secret that pastors who have reconnected themselves to the passions that led them to the ministry in the first place are more likely to lead healthy and vibrant congregation," Dykstra said.
Most participating pastors will begin their renewal sabbaticals in 2004 and will have until Dec. 31, 2005, to complete their spiritual journeys.
The Lilly Endowment is a private philanthropic foundation that was created in 1937. The Indianapolis organization supports the causes of religion, education, and community development, and it is interested in initiatives that benefit youth, foster leadership education among nonprofit institutions.