Christ Episcopal Church Reading has received a grant of $37,981.00 to enable their rector, the Rev. John R. Francis, to participate in the 2009 National Clergy Renewal Program funded by the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment, Inc. It is one of 149 congregations across the country supporting their ministers in the program that allows pastors to step back from their busy lives and renew their spirits for the benefit of their ongoing ministries.
A few years ago, a similar grant was awarded to Grace Church Allentown and Father Patrick Malloy.
Now in its 10th year, the program invites Christian congregations and ministers to consider and plan a period of intentional reflection and renewal. It provides a time for ministers to take a break from their daily obligations and gain the fresh perspective and renewed energy that a carefully considered “Sabbath time” of travel, study, rest, and prayer can provide.
Each congregation is eligible to apply for a grant of up to $50,000. Up to $15,000 of that amount can be used to fulfill pastoral duties during the minister’s absence and for expenses related to the congregation’s own renewal. The 149 grants this year total $6.2 million.
Christ Church sought a sabbatical leave support. After many years of ministry as a faithful priest, including leadership of a large inner city parish to grow in its ethnic diversity, Father Francis seeks to spend an extended time of much needed spiritual healing with his family and to immerse himself in the roots of his family in the Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Hispanic Church. He sees this as a spiritual boost to his leadership over the growth of the Reading congregation.
He will begin and end his sabbatical time on one-week silent directed retreats in a monastic setting. He will make a three and half week pilgrimage to Christian holy sites in England, Scotland, and Wales with his son, who is currently a graphic art major in college. They will enjoy time together and increase each others understanding of art history and spirituality. They will also visit with his mother’s extended family in the British Isles.
Returning to Pennsylvania, he will spend four weeks at home with his family while working through a language-learning software program for conversational Spanish. This will enhance his communication skills with the Hispanic community of his parish. Since Spanish is his spouse’s first language and his daughter and son are bilingual, this will be a refreshing family project. Then, for three weeks, Father Francis, his spouse, daughter and son will travel and explore Puerto Rico, where the parents of his spouse were born, having descended from generations of Taino Indians, the Spanish and Africans.
The Rev. J. Douglas Moyer, curate, and The Rev. Canon Ginny Rex Day, retired from Trinity Church Mt. Pocono, will be available for Sunday services, funerals, weddings, and other pastoral needs. Christ Church's administrative staff will work with the clergy, lay pastoral volunteers and vestry to maintain the parish’s daily operations while Father Francis is on sabbatical. The senior and junior wardens will assume ecclesiastical authority.
While Father Francis is away, the members of the congregation will continue to work with the Real Life Evangelism Series. Upon his return, Father Francis and the Christ Church vestry and staff will go on retreat with their consultant. They will reflect upon the long-term possibilities resulting from Father Francis' sabbatical experience, scheduling several work sessions to integrate these reflections and insights into the next step of their mutual ministry review and strategic plan development process. Father Francis, the vestry, and the staff will share their findings with the congregation and ask for their input through a written mutual ministry review survey and three meetings of their adult forum. In addition, Father Francis will publish an account of his sabbatical experiences in the parish newsletter and on their website.
After he has returned to the parish and his duties, Father Francis will share his renewal experiences with the congregation. He will also practice his conversational Spanish skills among our growing Spanish speaking membership.
This year’s group includes congregations in 36 states. The 2009 class of grantees brings to 1,290 the number of congregations that have received clergy renewal grants since 2000. “We have heard wonderful stories from these pastors who already have experienced their sabbaticals,” said Craig Dykstra, Endowment senior vice president for religion. “Their time away has freed them up to pursue personal interests and needs in ways that have given them new energy for ministry—and their congregations have discovered that they didn’t fall apart without their minister around. Indeed, they too experienced refreshment and a new-found sense of their own strengths.”
The Endowment’s larger goal is to bolster the good work that America’s pastors and congregations accomplish day in and day out and to reinforce and build upon important work being done on both sides of the pulpit. “In our religion grant-making, we hope to strengthen the efforts of today’s excellent pastors because it is no secret that pastors who have reconnected themselves to the passions that led them to the ministry in the first place are more likely to lead healthy and vibrant congregations,” Dykstra said.