Returning From Sabbatical

Returning From Sabbatical

This is my first week back from sabbatical! After twelve full weeks away from the responsibilities of pastoring a church, I am back in my home office, triaging email, arranging meetings, and altogether getting settled back in.

I've only had one other sabbatical, but—from conversations with other pastors and my own experience—I think a lot of sabbaticals follow a reasonably predictable pattern:

The first weeks, my brain was filled with the buzz of, What on earth do I do with my time? As I wrote before, I relatively quickly made a laundry list of everything I could accomplish during my time off. I knew to not be overly ambitious, but I also didn't want to just sit around with nothing to do.

By the fourth or fifth week, I no longer felt the compulsion to catalog and reorganize my library. I was driving the kids to camp, reading books, watching shows, and just enjoying my time. Emily, the kids, and I visited Indiana to see friends and family. We took a lot of trips to the public pool. We bought Six Flags passes. Sabbatical life felt relatively natural and easy. And, as I predicted, there was a little thought in the back of my mind . . . do I want to go back to work? Do I have to go back to work?

But by week ten, I began to feel the pull back to work and pastoral ministry. Now, mind you, we had just started our trip to the U.K.. So I was in no rush to go back to work. And there was definitely a point where Emily and I looked at each other and said, "Yeah, we could live here." But while I knew that the U.K. trip marked the end of my sabbatical, I felt no dread about that. I knew that by the time our time in the global capital of monarchy and colonialism was done, I would be ready to go back to work.

And, as predicted, I am! It's been great to begin to hear the stories of how The Table Church thrived while I was away. I don't know how to say this without sounding conceited, but hopefully this will come out right. There are a few things true at the same time:

1) Pastor Tonetta, Miche, and the directors, elders, and volunteers of The Table Church have my complete trust.

2) We have done our best to set up a church that is not pastor-centric. The Table should be able to keep clipping along even if Tonetta and I stole a submarine and drove it into the sun.

3) I still had a niggling worry that things could go wrong when I was gone.

But the reality is The Table has thrived in my absence. (I mean, as best as I can tell. I didn't go to church once while on sabbatical 😬 except for some evensong services in England). New leaders have come on board, our justice and compassion teams have grown, the worship team has grown in width and depth. Church finances are far stronger than we were a year ago.

Some part of me probably feels a teensy bit insecure about all of this—is my presence even necessary? But most of me is just so dang proud of this community, my co-pastor, and all the leaders at The Table. This is the way the church is meant to function.

God has given his grace to each one of us...He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God's people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4)

What I Read And Watched

When I started sabbatical, my reading list was filled with self-helpy, maximize-productivity sorts of things.

  • The One Thing, Gary Keller
  • Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon
  • Atomic Habits, James Clear

And of course I had to further radicalize myself against our anti-Black, capitalistic, militarized deathscape.

  • Becoming Abolitionists: Police, Protests, and the Pursuit of Freedom, Derecka Purnell
  • Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity in This Crisis and the Next, Dean Spade

But by week three or four, I fully succumbed to my nerdy instincts and started reading exclusively Star Wars novels.

  • Star Wars: The High Republic The Rising Storm
  • Star Wars: The High Republic A Test of Courage
  • Star Wars: The High Republic There Is No Fear
  • Star Wars: The High Republic Into the Dark
  • Star Wars: The High Republic The Heart of Drengir
  • Star Wars: The High Republic: Race to Crash Point Tower
  • Star Wars: The High Republic The Fallen Star

You get the idea.

I have a personality that defaults to desiring mastery over a topic. Or, another less pretentious way of putting it, I nerdout1 over things. I hadn't had a chance to fully embrace my inner Star Wars nerd in some time. Sabbatical was an excellent time to do that.

Of course, this was also paired with finally finishing watching the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels.

As a pastor, the job is often heavy, as any caregiving role can be. It was nice to be able to wholly lean into things that "entertain but do not matter."

A Metaphor

Back in March, the kids saved the seeds from their half-eaten mini bell peppers and asked to plant them. I said sure, at some point, in the vague sort of way that parents do to get their kids to shut up. So they put the seeds in some cups. I knew that if they just sat in the cups, the seeds would probably go bad, so I covered them with some damp paper towels until three months later, in June, when my sabbatical started.

We put the seeds in some dirt and began to water it. I warned the kids that the seeds may be dead. Or the little green sprouts we were saying may well just be weeds.

But by the time we got back from our U.K. trip in September, we were thrilled to see this:

It's a metaphor. Seeds that laid dormant for months. Then, once I had the margin to put them in the ground and care for them, they somehow managed to flourish.

I am incredibly grateful for a church that gave me the gift of rest and restorative play. I don't take for granted the amount of slack that Tonetta, Miche, and the rest of the team had to pick up to make this possible. Things within me were about to heal, grow, and flourish that probably wouldn't have otherwise.

So thank you.

  1. What John and Hank Green define as "unironic enthusiasm" ↩︎
Anthony Parrott

Anthony Parrott

Washington, DC