Weaving the Web: Sabbatical

Dear UUCPA folks,

You may have heard that I have a sabbatical coming up, so I want to make sure you know the details. First, it’s a ways off! I’ll be away from UUCPA from June 12, 2023. through January 1, 2024.

Many UU congregations fill in the minister’s role only with volunteers and guest speakers, but UUCPA puts aside money every year to save up as a sabbatical fund, enabling us to hire a half-time minister to anchor Sunday services and pastoral care in my absence. The Sabbatical Committee (Marianne Neuwirth, Kevin Crane, Randy Helmonds, and me) has received several applications for this important position and will have someone to recommend to the Board in a couple of months.

Our congregations have a long history of including sabbaticals for much the same reason that universities do: to provide an extended period for research, thinking, travel, special projects that just don’t usually fit into the busy life of a full-time minister, and the fallow time that is so important to creative work. These periods also give the community a chance to stretch as some roles are taken on by the community at large. I’ll be doing a training in sermon-writing and -delivering this spring for anyone who wants to develop an idea and maybe bring it to a Sunday service. During two long ministries—mine and Dan Harper’s—UUCPA experienced the very different styles of Sean Parker Dennison, Barb Greve, and Mary Ganz, not to mention the many guest preachers who brought such a variety of perspectives to our Sunday services. All of these leaders, and the ones from within UUCPA, had a lasting effect on our community.

Making time and space for exploration means you can go to some unpredictable places . . .
One of Amy’s drawings, Diptych: Judgment, Curiosity

I’ve been at UUCPA long enough that this is my third sabbatical. On the previous two, I did a lot of art (I double-majored in studio art and religion in college; anyone curious can see a lot of my art on my blog, Sermons in Stones, as well as on my office walls), wrote for publication, read piles and piles of books, and learned a lot of Spanish. For me, the biggest impact on my ministry was that I became braver and bolder. Diving back into drawing (which terrified me up until I made “overcoming my fear of drawing” a goal of my 2010 sabbatical), as well as living in another country and speaking halting Spanish to strangers, strengthened my courage muscles. So it was not a coincidence that I brought more vulnerability, spontaneity, and authenticity into the pulpit (and other aspects of UUCPA life) when I returned. I fully expect that this year’s sabbatical will once again take us all to new depths. We can’t predict what they will be–that is one point of sabbatical time.

Lots of folks who remember my previous sabbaticals have asked me whether my family and I will be spending that time in Mexico, as we did before. Those were a great part of our daughter’s education, but this time, she’ll be a junior in high school, and she and we want her to stay right here. So we’ll travel during the summer, but after that, I’ll be mostly enjoying being home with lots of time for art. I’m also planning to go on a Voices on the Border trip to El Salvador such as you’ve heard about from Karen Skold. Something else that will give my mind plenty to do will be the continuation of the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities‘s D.Min. degree program I enrolled in last fall. My concentration is Theology and the Arts; I want to develop ways to use visual arts in congregational spiritual exploration and justice work. So I’ll be doing that coursework, and probably some community art workshops.

January 4, 2024 will be the 20th anniversary of my installation at UUCPA, so Brooke and I have decided that my first week back from sabbatical will be a perfect time to celebrate 20 years of our shared ministry within and beyond UUCPA. Mark that weekend on your calendar for a great party!