A Letter from Fr. Davies on his Sabbatical
There is an interesting juxtaposition of preparing for a leave and taking a leave. In preparation, there are many details to chase down: What will you do? Where will you go? How much does this way of doing it cost versus that way of doing it?
But once you have all the details settled, then you can begin to breathe deeply and relax.
That breath, which in Hebrew is called Ruach, is the breath of the Spirit. Breathing in that breath of the Spirit for a few months, will fill you again with joy and wonder in all things, and the desire to pick up ones call with a renewed sense of call and dedication.
My sabbatical will be a series of pilgrimages framed by four distinct periods.
The first period will be to dramatically change the rhythm of my day. I plan to do that by changing time zones, the culture I am living in, the food and the language. I will be going to China for three weeks. While in China I will experience at least nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites. If you do not know about these, please look them up online; they are some of the most wonder-full places on the planet. Some were created by our Creator and some have been created by humans.
The second portion of my sabbatical will be to internalize that experience by visiting the Iona Community in Scotland where my wife and I will pray and journal and settle down after the experience of visiting China. Visiting China, I might add, includes four flights and a barge trip, and that’s after flying over 6,500 miles to get there!
The third phase involves continuing to explore UNESCO World Heritage sites in Scotland, but rather than tour around packing and unpacking, we plan to rent a flat for a week or two in a couple of different places and make more casual day trips really getting to know the land and the people.
Finally, as we begin to make the transition back to the United States, we will spend a few weeks on vacation with our grandchildren and their parents. This is an annual treat, and this year we will have some great stories to tell.
You, too, will be making pilgrimages. During my pilgrimage, the congregation at St. Francis will be intentionally exploring other faith traditions in Indiana. Your individual pilgrimages will ask the question, What makes each of these sites a faith heritage site and what would it take for our congregation to become a faith heritage site. It kind of plays on the UNESCO theme I am using.
One of the places the congregation will visit is the Roofless Church in New Harmony, Indiana. There is a sculpture at that church created by Jacque Lipchitz called “The Descent of the Holy Spirit.” Mr. Lipchitz, a Jew, created three copies of the sculpture. One is in France. One is at the Roofless Church and one is at the Abbey in Iona, Scotland. Our plan is to visit the same sculpture at the same time on two continents.
I can only begin to imagine how all of this will positively impact my relationship with my congregation at St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church.
In addition, the pilgrimage that the congregation will experience will offer us new ways of engaging the world and, perhaps, being open to others. Our communities and society can use as much of that as we can get these years.
A Pilgrimage For the Parish
While Fr. Davies is on sabbatical, The Rev. Whitney Rice and the congregation of St. Francis In-The-Fields will simultaneously engage in a renewal program centered around the theme of pilgrimage.
Not unlike Fr. Davies’ visits to World Heritage Sites, the congregation will take daytrips to ‘Faith Heritage Sites’ in Indiana, including the Mosque at the Islamic Society of North America in Plainfield, the Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, a Jewish Temple in Indianapolis, the St. Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, and the New Harmony Settlement in New Harmony.
We hope to serve in that way as companions to Father Davies, living as a congregation of pilgrims that reunites in the fall of 2019 with stories, lessons, and an energized vision of our common call to ministry. As we spend over three months studying scriptures and traditions of pilgrimage from the Christian faith, we also think about what makes places and communities valuable to seekers. In looking at places known for faith over generations we hope to better understand our own gifts and our own legacy of faith.
FAQ about the Rector’s Sabbatical
What is a sabbatical?
The word sabbatical has its roots in the Biblical concept of Sabbath (“to rest” or “to cease”). One of the Ten Commandments is “to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” a reminder from God that rest is essential to our lives and work. Sabbatical leave is a time for our priest and our congregation to shift gears in order to rest, disengage, study, reflect and travel in order to return to minister among us refreshed and renewed in body, mind and spirit. (It is not a time for routine work, mid-career assessment, job search, or terminal leave).
Sabbatical is more than a vacation from meetings, budgets, sermons, and people in need. It is a time to receive spiritual nourishment and a change in perspective, to deepen relationships with God – a season of spiritual growth. This special time will also be a season of rest and growth for the entire parish.
Do other clergy go on sabbatical?
Yes, sabbatical is now standard in all Episcopal (and most other) churches roughly every five to seven years. Most congregations report that their priest returns refreshed and revitalized, and that the parish moves on to new phases of ministry.
How Long will Father Davies be gone?
Beginning on April 28th, 2019 with a Leave-taking Liturgy, Fr. Davies will return to his role as Rector in full at the 2019 Parish Retreat at Waycross Camp and Conference Center on September 13th, 2019.
What will Father Davies be doing on his sabbatical?
Fr. Davies will be traveling to China, Tibet, Scotland and other locations to visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites. He will also be spending time with family. He will be engaging in prayer and deep spiritual reflection to renew him both as a disciple and as a minister.
Who will cover his responsibilities in his absence?
Our Associate Rector, The Rev. Whitney Rice, will serve as acting rector in Fr. Davies’ absence. She has served three other congregations as rector prior to serving at St. Francis In-The-Fields as an associate. With solid lay leader expertise and participation already in place, particularly in the areas of parish finances and pastoral care, the congregation will be well tended.
Our bishop, The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, is supportive of clergy renewal and will be available.
Who will cover the expenses of the sabbatical?
St. Francis In-The-Fields Episcopal Church was awarded a grant of $50,000.00 by the 2018 Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations. Administered by Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, St. Francis is one of 28 congregations in Indiana selected to participate in this competitive program.
The grant will cover all expense of Fr. Davies’ travels and will also cover all parish pilgrimage events, including the full costs of the All Parish Retreat in September.
Who do I call if I have a family or personal crisis?
If you have a pastoral emergency, please call the church at 317-873-4377 and speak with the Parish Administrator or follow the prompts after hours to leave a message. Our system will automatically reach Mother Whitney and she will be in touch soon.
This is the same system that is currently in place at St. Francis and will not change during the sabbatical. It is very important to the clergy and staff of the church that we are able to be reached at any time. It is in joy and sorrow that we journey together.
Will the church be in a "holding pattern" while Father Davies is away?
No, the church will be continually engaged in learning and action centered on the theme of pilgrimage, while mindfully taking a ‘sabbath’ and resting together.
Each member of the congregation, including children and youth, will also be encouraged to take a personal pilgrimage of some kind to a place of spiritual significance in their lives. For example, the pilgrimage could be to a childhood church, to a location in nature where they particularly felt the presence of God, to the grave of a loved one, or to a hospital where they gave birth or were born. These pilgrimages can be as dramatic as driving cross-country or as simple as going to the chapel of one’s own retirement community. What matters is that in some way we search for God. We hope to serve in that way as companions to Father Davies, living as a congregation of pilgrims that reunite in fall 2019 with stories, lessons, and an energized vision of our common call to ministry.
In addition to personal pilgrimages, the congregation will engage in many different activities around the theme of pilgrimage. Not unlike Father Davies’ visits to World Heritage Sites, we will take day-long bus trips to what we’re calling “faith heritage sites” in Indiana, including the Mosque at the Islamic Society of North America in Plainfield, the Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, a Jewish Temple in Indianapolis, the New Harmony Settlement, and St. Meinrad Archabbey.
As we study what makes other places and communities valuable to pilgrims and seekers, places known for faith over generations, we hope to better understand our own gifts and how we too can leave a legacy of faith to our descendants.
What if I have a baptism, wedding or funeral I need to plan?
The church will continue to support its members, including offering all sacraments. Mother Whitney will be available to help you.
Will Father Davies be in contact with St. Francis In-The-Fields while on sabbatical?
We will hear from Fr. Davies on occasion if he is able to share with us. Updates and pictures will be shared in our weekly newsletter, announcements, and on the Narthex screen if we receive them, but it is the expectation that Fr. Davies will have many new stories and experiences to share in September.
What if I bump into Father Davies around town?
Stop and say hello! But please keep in mind that Fr. Davies is on sabbatical and be respectful that he is in a time of rest apart from the parish.
We will officially welcome him back with a celebratory liturgy and Coffee Hour on August 18th, 2019 and receive him back into relationship with the church on that day. This celebration will continue towards the Parish Retreat in September, allowing him to transition back into the full role of Rector.