For many ministers — who often sprint from one end of the week to the next, their schedules crammed with meetings and worship services and pastoral visits — there’s almost no time to stop, breathe and ponder.
Recognizing that, and the importance for ministry of pastors taking sabbatical time, the Lilly Endowment has created grant programs to support mid-career pastors in taking a step back from the whirlwind of non-stop work.
One endeavor, the Clergy Renewal Program, is based at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis and provides grants to congregations (up to $50,000) to allow their pastors a period of rest and renewal.
Another, based at the Louisville Institute at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, recognizes that what some pastors crave is time and space to dig deeply into research. The Pastoral Grant Program offers funding of up to $15,000 for study of issues related to Christian life, faith and ministry. In recent years, that’s gone to support projects on everything from campus ministry to spiritual food practices to cross-cultural ministry.
“The most compelling proposals for us are ones that do arise from the ministry context, but also have a deep reflective and intellectual dimension to them,” said Don Richter, associate director of the Louisville Institute
Deborah Warren, pastor of Second United Presbyterian Church of Wilkinsburg in Pittsburgh, used the grant to study ways in which pastors of multiple small congregations can work in intentional team ministry together — “to work together as though you are part of one staff,” even while serving different congregations, she said.
Many seminary graduates serve small congregations and don’t benefit from the mentoring they might receive from larger multi-pastor staffs, she said. Pooling resources can bring benefits — the three small congregations in her group share a copier, for example and work on mission projects together, such as involving the neighborhood in baking and shipping 40,000 cookies to American troops serving overseas. They also jointly write Advent and Lenten devotional books.
Warren and her colleagues used the grant to study intentional ministry practices in other areas; to involve seminary students in intentional ministry practice; and to develop a pilot project for Pittsburgh Presbytery.
Ron Foster, pastor of Bethesda United Methodist Church in Maryland, is using his grant to study photography as a spiritual discipline. Photography has become his practice of meditation and prayer. Photography teaches him to pay attention, to slow down, to “tune us into the rhythms of God in the world,” Foster said.
Often he hangs photographs on his office door. One posted there now is of a church member dancing at his daughter’s wedding in August. The previous year had been incredibly difficult for the man — two months before the wedding he was in a nursing home, not sure he’d ever walk again or even attend his daughter’s wedding.
“It felt like a prayer when I made the image,” said Foster. “It is a living prayer. There were so many prayers poured into him by our congregation over the last year.”