Planning a study leave

Two weeks of study leave included in a pastor’s compensation package provide a valuable time for spiritual and academic growth, relaxation and an opportunity to get away from a normal, harried routine. According to the Book of Order (G-2.0804), the amount of money provided is negotiated between the pastor and the session, approved annually by the congregation and needs to meet the local presbytery’s minimum requirements. In Albany Presbytery, congregations must provide a minimum of $1,704 for education expenses for a full-time pastor and professional expenses of at least $671. Guidelines in the terms of call suggest that these funds be distributed as best fits the teaching elder’s use and circumstances. In regard to continuing education, this includes “conference or study weeks and the registration, travel, lodging and meal costs associated with them.”


Many options are open for study leave including independent study relating to pastoral ministry, individual courses offered by seminaries, theological centers, universities and colleges, as well as advanced degree programs (Th.M., D.Min., Ph.D., etc.).


Unique opportunities, often unknown or not considered by pastors and sessions, are the study sessions and seminars offered at the combined annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. The 2013 meetings in Baltimore, for example, took place in five days just before Thanksgiving, and involved over 900 individual sessions and 100 meetings of affiliate members. More than 10,000 professors from colleges and theological seminaries and pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders had the difficult task of deciding which presentations and panels to attend in the Baltimore Convention Center and several surrounding hotels.  There were also plenary lectures given by leaders in the study of religion for both groups in addition to additional meetings and receptions given by theological seminaries, universities, book publishers and affiliate groups like the Fund for Theological Education, the Hispanic Theological Initiative, the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, the Salvation Army and the Mennonite Scholars and Friends. In their spare time, participants had opportunities to visit the Exhibition Area where more than 240 publishers were selling their products at discounted prices, take part in special tours of the Baltimore area (museums, churches), take an eco-justice boat trip through the Chesapeake Watershed (which I did), or connect with other attendees!


A brief list of some of the papers, seminars, discussions, and presentations demonstrates the value of attendance. In the Society of Biblical Literature area, for example, in addition to sections on individual books of the Bible, the following might be of interest to pastors: Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies; Archaeology and the Bible; Bible and Popular Culture; Biblical Ethics; Ecological Hermeneutics; Ethics and Biblical Interpretation; and Use, Influence, and Impact of the Bible. The American Academy of Religion Program Units included Arts, Literature, and Religion; Christian Systematic Theology; Comparative Religion; Philosophy of Religion; Religion and Politics; Teaching Religion; and Women and Religion. Generally, 3-4 papers are presented throughout the meeting in each of more than 100 specific groups in the AAR alone.


One way participants can maximize the value of such a large event is to focus on a different area of inquiry each year. I participate regularly in the Mark Seminar, which meets twice (for a total of 5 hours). This year I attended two panel discussions on biblical concepts of poverty since I am a member of the Peacemaking Task Force in our presbytery.


Next year the meetings take place in San Diego, November 21-26. Information about the work of each group can be obtained by visiting their websites ( and




EARL S. JOHNSON JR. is a retired pastor living in Johnstown, N.Y., and an adjunct professor of religious studies at Siena College.