Recently two separate occasions have reminded me of the need to be attentive to the present and my current surroundings. One was a recent sermon in my home congregation in which a congregational member (who teaches photography) identified that recognition is a key ingredient to taking good pictures. One has to be attentive to one’s surroundings, having the ability to recognize what there is to be seen in order to focus on what it is that you truly want to capture in a picture. The second was an article that sought to identify the characteristics of successful inventors/entrepreneurs. It also said that a key factor was being aware of one’s present circumstances, asking, “Is there a better way to do this/make this/fill this need?” It means being attentive to one’s surroundings and what is going on as a way of anticipating what may make for a better life/product/tool/process that others might find helpful.
One of the decisions I made during my first sabbatical after seven years of ministry in my first congregational setting was to set aside one day per month for prayer and reflection. I realized that too often I was simply moving through the daily and weekly routines on autopilot. I needed to stop, observe a sabbath routine and reflect so as to be more intentional about my work as pastor. I needed to recognize and attend to the present moment, to listen to God in new or deeper ways.
The decision to take a day per month for reflection was easy. The implementation I found to be much harder. That first year as I returned to pastoral work I believe I observed three days of reflection and prayer. The following year showed a 33 percent improvement. (I took four days!) I found myself wondering why this “good idea” was so hard for me to actually achieve.
When I served the second congregation I determined I would build that monthly routine into my schedule from the outset. The first year I observed nine retreat days. Subsequent years included even better practice. And I found the practice to be indispensable to my doing good pastoral work.
When I came to Ohio to be part of the Conference structure, I continued the monthly days of prayer and reflection. And, as you know, Conference provides sabbatical time for its staff just as it encourages congregations to do so for their pastoral staff. A regular rhythm of work and reflection is important for the health of ministry. Some of us need regular reminders to slow down and be aware of our present surroundings.
After taking a three-month sabbatical in 2006, I found myself appreciating its significant value. Yet I wondered if it would be possible to build a more regular rhythm into my work that would not take such a significant block of time and would cause minimal disruption to the work of colleagues and schedules.
After conversation with the Leadership Team, I have been approved for trying a different sabbatical experiment. I have identified four two-week stretches of time in which I will be released from Conference work to study subjects that are important to me and ones that I believe will have implications for continued effective ministry to the Conference. The intention of these two-week periods will be for renewal, prayer, and reflection without disrupting the routine of Conference work or unduly placing burdens on other staff. Granted, it may mean that some work will be slightly delayed. But it will give me opportunity to practice intentional “recognition and attentiveness” time.
It remains to be seen if this is workable, both for the Conference and for me. But it is an experiment about which I’m excited and eager to see how the Spirit leads! The four two-week periods this year will be June 10-21, July 22-Aug. 2, Sept. 3-16, and Dec. 9-20. Stay tuned: I plan to report on what I’ve experienced.