Question and Answer October 1999
I am hoping to take a sabbatical next year; have you any advice for me and for the congregation?
FIRST OF ALL, MAY I say that it is a very good idea. If a clergyman works hard, he needs time to re-charge his batteries and to re-think his work.
There are too many clergy who take sabbaticals and treat it as the opportunity for purely selfish study. The proper use of such a time is surely to make ourselves more effective in our ministry and therefore, if I study some specific issue, it should surely be something which is relevant to the ministry in which I am engaged now, or to which I might be called in days to come.
It seems right also to be committed to stay for a reasonable time after the sabbatical is over. Too many clergy move almost immediately and the congregation feels hardly treated.
But what sort of things would be profitable?
A study of church-growth, whether in the USA, or by visiting various other parishes in the UK might be exceedingly useful. Another valuable pursuit is a serious study of spirituality, concentrating on areas which are not naturally our own.
In any case a long retreat would be most productive - although those with families have to be careful not to give their spouse an especially heavy burden in manning the vicarage without the Vicar and being very much alone. But there are many subjects which might be profitable e.g. rural ministry, UPA work, children's work, healing, the many gifts of the body of Christ, etc., etc. But at least let it be useful if the Church is paying for it. And above all let there be serious bible study.
However there are some clergy who are simply worn out and need a simple rest.
And what is there to say to the parish? First of all: do encourage your clergyman to go for It. Help him not to feel guilty. He is doing this for you, in order to become a more effective minister on his return.
Suggest tactfully areas of ministry where you think he is less adequate. Make certain that you pray for him. Ensure that he has ample time for a serious report-back at the end of the period. Expect that he will come back with fresh ideas which will lead to changes in the work of the church.
John Pearce , Bury St Edmunds
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