The Evangelism of Sacred Space

I’ll be taking a sabbatical this fall! Here’s the full text of my communication to members of Grace Church concerning my plans:

 

May 24, 2016, The Commemoration of Jackson Kemper, First Missionary Bishop of the Episcopal Church, First Bishop of Wisconsin, and first Episcopal clergy to lead services in Madison Wisconsin (1839)

At its meeting on May 11, the Vestry of Grace Church approved my sabbatical leave for October 23-November 27, 2016. My letter of agreement with Grace provides for a week’s sabbatical leave for every year of service and each year our operating budget sets aside one week’s salary and benefits for a sabbatical fund that will be used to defray my expenses. The letter of agreement also specifies that my sabbatical be taken after 5 years of service. I delayed it because of our work on the master plan, capital campaign and renovation. Sabbaticals are intended to offer clergy the opportunity to reflect on their ministry and develop new or enhanced skills or expertise.

During my sabbatical, I hope to lay the groundwork for the next phase of common ministry. I will explore a series of interrelated issues. First, we live in a rapidly changing religious landscape. With the increased presence of non-Christian religions and especially the rise of the so-called “nones” (those who identify themselves as having no religious commitment or affiliation), and the decline of mainline denominations, the future shape of denominations like the Episcopal Church or local congregations like Grace will be transformed. Second, as our society becomes more diverse ethnically and racially, how do we create communities that embrace this diversity and how do we reach out across the deep racial and socio-economic divisions in our city? Third, I’m intrigued by the ways in which sacred space can become a means for outreach and community building. The beauty of our courtyard garden or an encounter with the silence and grandeur of our nave can become experiences of the divine. To bring these three issues together, my sabbatical project is tentatively entitled: “The Evangelism of Sacred Space.”

To that end, I will spend my sabbatical to visit churches in other urban areas that are especially effective in developing creative ministries for our current religious context. My travels will take me to Washington, DC., New York City, Cambridge, MA, as well as to the Pacific Northwest. Included in my time away will be a retreat at the Society for St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge and the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in San Antonio.

I anticipate learning a great deal about how churches are engaging with their neighborhoods and responding creatively to our changing religious landscape, and I hope that ideas and processes I encounter can be adapted for our ministry and mission here at Grace. In addition to planning my travels, I am also making plans to provide for pastoral care and worship during my absence. I hope to be able to share those plans with the congregation by the end of June. I give thanks to God for all we’ve accomplished over the last seven years and for our continuing shared ministry.

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