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Ministerial Sabbatical Webpage

Ministerial Sabbatical F.A.Q.

What: Reverend Shari is planning her first sabbatical, a period of paid leave for study, reflection, rest, and renewal. The sabbatical’s aim is to nurture effective and long-term ministry.  

Why: Sabbatical leave is a standard UU clergy benefit and is included in Shari’s Letter of Agreement.  It is a covenant with our congregation that reflects a rich and lengthy tradition of Unitarian Universalists.

 

This sabbatical will not only benefit Shari but will also benefit our church when Shari returns refreshed and filled with new ideas. Read more about the “why” below.

When: July 1-Oct 31, 2025  

 

How: Our congregation’s Sabbatical Committee (established this spring) is formulating a plan for the continuity of congregational ministries and leadership during Shari’s leave.

 

The plan assigns worship, pastoral care, rites of passage, and Board and staff leadership responsibilities to a variety of individuals; it utilizes a modest, already designated fund set-aside for paying for such coverage.

 

The committee is also charged with supporting Shari’s transition to sabbatical, her boundaries while on sabbatical, and her re-engagement in the life of the congregation after the sabbatical period.

Still Ahead: The Sabbatical Committee plans to provide regular communication including opportunities to learn more, provide input, and to support its efforts. Look for a timeline and updates regarding plans for coverage soon.

 

Contact: Sabbatical Committee Members: Douglas Lee-Regier, Vanessa Timberlake , Suzanne King, Deb Burton, and Rebecca Turner  sabteam@firstuuomaha.org

More about the Why

 

In his 2000 foreword to Clergy Renewal: The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning, Roy M. Oswald articulates seven reasons a congregation should regularly invest in clergy sabbaticals.[1] Consider that sabbaticals:

 

  • Refill clergy’s spiritual wells. Successful spiritual leadership, in the pulpit and beyond, requires a life of spiritual depth for the pastor themselves. The day-to-day demands of parish ministry tend to undercut this need. Sabbaticals help to bridge the gap.

  • Position a minister to lead in the current moment. Parish ministry is changing rapidly in the 21st century. To thrive (or survive), congregations need spiritual leaders who are fresh in mind and heart, able to retool their own skill sets and guide the congregation toward new ways of living the mission. Time-outs help prepare clergy for innovative leadership in challenging times.

  • Reduce the (uncommonly high) risk of burnout. The risk of burnout rises in the absence of renewal leave. Oswald explains, “the constant intimate involvement with the emotional freight of other people’s lives can be draining. Burned-out clergy are much more likely to leave parish ministry, or seek another call,” or slide into diminished functioning, with greater likelihood of a conflicted ending. “Every pastoral turnover costs a congregation years of progress,” since each ending is followed by several interim ministry years, and several years of relationship-building with a new pastor before momentum picks up again.

  • Protect and enhance a church’s greatest resource for growth and stability:  the vibrancy of the spiritual leader.  “Clergy vitality is the greatest asset in building up a congregation.” Whereas burnout leaves clergy empty, lacking spark, less able to connect with people or champion a church’s vision for the future.

  • Offset the overwork that is normalized in ministry. The norms for clergy work and work-life balance are “crazy” and unsustainable. “When you add up the time off clergy miss that most lay people take for granted …” it’s clear that sabbaticals are “a reasonable proposal to make up for that loss.”

  • Build broader leadership and institutional knowledge. Clergy sabbaticals help to nurture lay leaders – old and new – and bring ownership back to the membership. This is a correction to the job “creep” that tends to happen over time when you have a competent minister. The congregation’s improved familiarity with the work of the church, its increased skills engaging in this work, and its fresh exercise of judgment about “how we do things” – all of these are healthy for the church, putting the congregation in a better position for the long run.

  • Are a cost-effective way to nurture an effective, long-term ministry. Pastoral transitions are costly in terms of budget as well as lost time and lay leader labor. Transitions are expensive, involving search processes, compensation negotiations, and moving costs. Another source reports that “The typical pastor has his/her greatest ministry impact at a church in years 5 through 14 of his pastorate; unfortunately, the average pastor lasts only five years at a church.”[2] The average tenure for a UU minister in 2023 was slightly longer at six years.[3]

 

[1] Foreword by Roy M. Oswald in Clergy Renewal:  The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning by A. Richard Bullock and Richard J. Bruesehoff (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

[2] Burnout for Pastors report at https://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/jesuscreed/2007/08/burnout-for-pastors.html (accessed May 2024); report cites source of statistics as the book Pastors at Greater Risk, H B London, Jr., and Neil B Wiseman, Regal Books, © 2003.

[3] 2023 FACT Survey on UU Congregations  Emerging from the Global Pandemic, https://www.beautiful.ai/player/-NURxDCmZdVhV5DRrdO4/FACT-2023

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