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My Sabbatical Thoughts

I have just finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s, Leaving Church.    She is an Anglican priest who has served her entire ministry in Georgia.  A graduate of Yale Divinity College, she spent ten years as an associate of a large parish in Atlanta and the last five years of her ministry as rector of a small town church in northeastern Georgia.  Most recently she has been a professor at Piedmont College in Georgia.  She is a prolific writer and a respected preacher and frequent conference speaker.The book is a reflection of her journey beginning with the call to faith, then to ordination and her adventures in ministry at the two churches she served.  So many of her experiences resonated with me.  Answering a call from God can be profoundly confusing for most people and completely foolish to others.  It means throwing aside so much that our culture values in terms of wealth and status.  What was clear from page to page was her passion for God.  To live with this yearning for the divine is to be enfolded by a spiritual power so far beyond the reckoning of human measures.  It means to be loved and equipped to be Christ in this place and time:  speaking, healing, forgiving, challenging, feeding and praying.  She writes at length about the struggle of being set apart in the community.  You are part of the church family….yet not.  You hold the secrets.  You have power.  The position and the collar (which she wore daily and I do not) come attached with both the community’s expectations, the world’s expectations and the wearer’s.  I was drawn especially to the part of the book in which she talks about the search for a piece of property when she and her husband moved out of Atlanta.  They wanted land.  Not a working farm so much as an acreage.   I smiled at her explanation for the need for running water on the property which she attributed to her Irish Celtic roots.  It has been something I have expressed often in my life.  There is something so holy about lakes and rivers, trees and mountains….the breadth of God’s Creation.  When I started the research for my doctoral dissertation I recall the lightbulb moment when I coined the term:  ecocentrism.  For many Old Testament scholars who study the Creation narrative in scripture the crowning achievement of God is the creation of humanity:  anthropocentrism.   But for me, it was being placed within nature and connected to places of beauty and wonder that always seemed to bring me closest to God and an enduring faith.Taylor chose to leave her parish after five and a half years of growth and success.  When she was musing about this time of change, the nearby college contacted her with the offer to lead a new department.  The timing seemed providential.  For the last portion of the book she explores the process of letting go.  On one level, it is the letting go of congregational life about which there is much wisdom and many books written.  More interesting for me, however, is her discussion of her own identity after ministry.  We keep our ordination for life but we cease to practice ministry with a career change or retirement.  Who am I if I am not a minister at Church X?  One of the comments she made that I will chew on for the rest of the day is likening the clerical collar to your wedding ring—you wear it for life….no matter what…..One of the other comments she made that keeps niggling at me was that she used study groups and the pulpit to talk about what mattered to her, much as I do.  When she was leaving her church a member wrote a long letter to let her know what mattered to him…..just for her information!  It hit home with me.  I spent my last sabbatical researching “Real World/Real Sermons” but I fear I have fallen back into the trap of giving voice to my passions and interests rather than yours.  So, this is an invitation to let me know what matters for you and what concerns you/is bothering you.  I have always preferred conversations to monologues.Blessings to all,Sharon

Categories: General News, Sharon