The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
Last Sunday before Sabbatical
Unless you are brand-new to this community, you’re aware that this is my last day before going on a 7-month sabbatical. Perhaps you’re weary of hearing about it, in which case you might close your eyes and take a mini-sabbatical yourself for the next few minutes.
Recently I asked the Vestry if they had any advice about this sermon, since I haven’t really known how to approach this day. Do I just slip away quietly? How about a PowerPoint presentation on my goals and objectives? One wise Vestry member looked at me, smiled, and said “Just speak what’s on your heart.” And so I will.
First, about you. I couldn’t be going at a better time. In our many years together, we’ve never been in better shape. Dozens of you handle ministries enthusiastically and skillfully. Creative initiatives sprout up all the time. Our Vestry is strong, focused, and spiritually grounded. We’re in a gorgeous new building with ample space for all that we do. In this economy, amazingly, you are keeping your pledges current so that we can pay our salaries and bills.
We have a gifted and dedicated staff. 8 remarkable and devoted souls keep this parish engine running smoothly. Fr. Christopher has my complete confidence. He has a deeply pastoral heart, creativity, and a sharp eye for things that need attention. Fr. Daniel and deacons Judith and Jan bring depth of faith, a variety of gifts, and a great love for you. You will be well-cared for by all our clergy.
And if this weren’t enough, our new bishop and renewed diocesan atmosphere will be a pleasure to you. They will fully support who we are and whatever we need.
So my heart is at peace about you. I feel so grateful, and have no doubt that you will thrive in the next 7 months.
In order to make the most of your sabbatical time, there are a few things I’d like to ask of you. First of all, get involved – if you aren’t already - in the ongoing process we’re calling ReImagine St. Michael’s. We set this up to be a sabbatical process for you, to take stock of where we are now and where God might be leading us into the future. Listen deeply to one another, voice your passions and your vision.
As you do so, remember that you don’t attend church; you are the church. This means that in this process, rather than coming up with ideas that someone else should be doing to improve the church you attend, stand up and offer what you want to do, and invite others similarly motivated to join you. That’s how the church is renewed.
Second, I’d like to ask every single household in this parish to make a financial pledge to our operating fund. If you consider this your spiritual home and you appreciate all that goes on here, then help fund it. The commitment is important to your sense of belonging. No pledge is too small – it all adds up to quite a bit – but we always invite you to consider proportional giving, where you contribute a percentage of your monthly income to God’s work in the world, including your parish. And please, if you haven’t done so already, make your pledge very soon. The Vestry needs to craft a budget before the holidays come, and they can’t do so without knowing what you will contribute.
Third, you can support Fr. Christopher by understanding that he is taking on a larger scope of responsibility. He needs to be less of a manager of details, and more of a leader who checks in from time to time. Maybe you’re used to him working through the specifics of projects with you. I’d like to ask you to now take a different approach: agree on the general direction, and then take the ball and run with it, all the way from preparation through execution and cleanup. And don’t be dismayed if some things just don’t happen. With one less full-time clergy, it makes sense to do less.
Now about me. Using a grant from the Lilly Foundation, I’ll be doing some traveling now and then, but not too much. Some of it will be to what I call “unusual Christian communities” in other urban settings. I’ve always known that the typical American Sunday-morning church culture is not all there is to Christian worship and ministry. I want to see how the Spirit is moving people to re-imagine church. You’ll be able to read about some these visits on the blog that I’ll be writing.
Other travel will be to Haiti, where, for many years, my wife and her mother have developed programs that alleviate extreme poverty in one small village. I’ve been hearing about it every day at home. I need to see for myself what it is all about. And Susanna and I will also go briefly to a Latin American country to soak in the culture and language there.
But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. This is only the cover story. The real sabbatical is internal. On these travels and during the many weeks at home between them, I will be on a pilgrimage of faith. This sabbatical is not just for rest and refreshment, although it will be that, I trust. It will also be, I pray, a renewal of my soul, an opportunity to live into the next phase of my life in God.
Many of you have asked whether I am excited about my sabbatical. Well, yes and no. Expectant may be a better word. I expect the Spirit to move in me. I expect to be stretched. I pray for this, I ask your prayers for this, and I will watch for it daily. Unhooking from my usual role and routine, I will be moving into some unknowing. Who am I, if temporarily not the Rector of this parish? What is it that my heart is drawn towards? It is time for me to re-imagine Brian.
I know that, at times, this will not be easy, perhaps especially at first. In my experience, new territory of the Spirit is unsettling, as it should be. But more deeply, I know that new life in God is like coming home. Resurrection simplifies and clarifies us. It grounds us and makes us more real, more alive, more true to the person God created us to be.
The same is true for you. As you re-imagine our future, as you listen for God’s call, you will be led into new territory of the Spirit, and that could be unsettling. We will be stretched, and we will enter into some areas of unknowing. But it will also be like coming home, for resurrection always clarifies who we are and why we exist.
So this is a special time for both of us. We’re both looking for the Spirit to guide us into our future. And to do so, we’re looking at the big picture. We’re like Zacchaeus, in our gospel today. He climbed a tree so that he might catch a glimpse of Jesus, who, in the midst of a crowd, was talking and touching and healing. What’s he doing down there?
We’re climbing up, too, over the crowd, getting above the everyday business of parish life. You’re taking stock, re-imagining, and so am I. We’re hoping to get a better view of what God is doing down there.
But be prepared. Zacchaeus got much more than he bargained for. All he wanted was a glimpse; what he got was a houseguest. Jesus recognized Zacchaeus’ curiosity, his openness, and invited himself to dinner, for conversation, for God knows what that night. I can only imagine what took place in that home. But I suspect that things got really interesting, and Zacchaeus was never the same.
We’ll get more than we bargained for, too. If our hearts are open, as Zacchaeus’ was, God will seize the opportunity, barge in to our home, and things will get really interesting. We may never be the same.
So join me in what is on my heart this day. Be grateful for all that we share. Be confident; we have all that we need, and God is faithful. And be expectant, for God is an amazing houseguest.