At a called meeting on February 17, the Session approved a sabbatical leave for me from May 9 to September 4 of this year. I am very grateful to the Session for this chance to be away for some time of renewal, and I look forward to being back with you to move into the future that awaits this vibrant community of faith. This congregation’s generosity toward me is beautiful and my gratitude is deep.
I began to tell the story behind this sabbatical to the congregation on Sunday, February 23. The basic story line is that after my experiences as chairman of the Administrative Commission for Central Presbyterian Church in Athens, which lasted well over a year, followed by a capital campaign here at NPC, a campaign that went very well, I was depleted and somewhat unsettled in spirit.
I took some time in August to attend a workshop called “Transitional Ministry.” It is a workshop that is required for ministers who want to serve as interim pastors, but it is also for others who find themselves in transitional situations. The main reason I went was to gather information that might be helpful to our congregation as we enter the new territories of building and parking expansion and how these changes might impact our ministry in the future. I must tell you, however, that I also went to explore my own options for the future.
The questions I was asking myself were these: Could I — and we — stay vital until I reach retirement, even though I have been your pastor for over 21 years? (I am turning 60 in May; I cannot name a retirement date, but it is most likely at least 6 or 7 years away.) Will I hurt Nacoochee Presbyterian Church if I stay too long, and how will I know if I’m staying too long? Is the congregation feeling the same depletion of energy that I am experiencing, and, if so, am I the cause? These were my questions going into that workshop in August.
I came away from the Transitional Ministry program with two conclusions: first, I want to stay at NPC until retirement and I think we can remain vital together; and, second, I need a sabbatical to allow my spirits to rise. Already, after some time beyond the Administrative Commission and the capital campaign, I am feeling my energy come back, and you are inspiring me with the many ways you are engaging in ministries within and outside this congregation!
My initial thinking was to take this sabbatical in 2020, but after many conversations it became clear that 2019 is a better choice. 2020 will be the 150th year of existence for Nacoochee Presbyterian Church! I want to be part of the planning and celebration of this milestone in our community. Also, we will probably need to enter into a second capital campaign to close out the debt we now have upon completion of Phase 1A of our project and possibly fund the next phase. 2019 is the better choice given these upcoming events.
A 2019 sabbatical is doable for me because my plans are not elaborate. I want to do some camping, go to a few baseball games, attend our son’s soccer camp in July, help Bess move into college, go to Minnesota to see relatives and visit the monastery, take a short trip or two with Anne Forrest … it’s already planned!
The Session assures me that this year is possible for the congregation as well. A large part of this readiness is because we have the very capable administrative work of Denise Bobo in the office and the wonderful music ministry of Barbara Luhn! Denise and Barbara are solid foundations for the ongoing work of NPC.
We are also blessed by the fact that Gary Bagley, a retired Presbyterian minister who attends our church and whose wife, Jennifer, is a member, is available to be a steady presence leading worship and handling pastoral and administrative issues as they arise in my absence. Gary has just finished a year as the interim minister at First Presbyterian Church in Cleveland, Georgia. He has been a pastor for 35 years; he spent 25 years as a called pastor and 10 years as an interim pastor. Gary has also worked at Columbia Seminary as the Chief Development Officer/Director of Development and Seminary Relations, and as a consultant with Cargill Associates. Needless to say, Gary Bagley is well qualified and brings a wealth of experiences to our community and to his work at NPC while I am away.
More important, Gary brings the right spirit to this community of faith. Gary and Jennifer have found a home at Nacoochee Presbyterian Church that resonates with their sense of the call of God in these times and in this place. I and we are blessed to have them with us, and it seems providential to me that Gary is available and willing to step into leadership during the sabbatical.
Whew, this was a long article! If you made it to the end, bless you. I am very grateful and proud to be the pastor at Nacoochee Presbyterian Church. My family and I will be forever blessed by the many ways you surround and shape us with love.
P.S. There are many wonderful things happening this month at NPC — Ash Wednesday on March 6; each Wednesday night after Ash Wednesday (March 13, 20, and 27, plus April 3 and 10) there will be a powerful program led by Jill Crunkleton on faith communities and dementia; Francis Womack will be preaching on March 17; the Session will meet to receive new members on March 24; hosting Family Promise families will begin on March 31. Please see the articles in this newsletter for more information on these and other upcoming events