Today, after 12 weeks of rest, renewal and learning, I return to the office. I loved these 12 weeks. They were a wonderful opportunity and a gift. At the same time, I’m glad to be back to Trinity. I’ve missed the people and the work.
I wrote a summary of my sabbatical experience for the personnel commission, the congregational council and the congregation.
Each pastor or deacon at Trinity is provided a 12-week sabbatical every seven years per Trinity’s personnel policies. This summer, after 8 years serving as senior pastor, I took my first sabbatical.
That time away was a remarkable gift, personally and spiritually. Having walked (and continuing to walk) with the congregation through the COVID pandemic, and through the cultural division that we all experience every day, it was a good time to take some time away, to pray, to rest, to think, and to catch a breath.
As is the case with just about all of us, I don’t think I realized exactly how tired I was until I’d taken time to pause and rest. (I think that I was able to take a short, 30-minute nap almost every afternoon that I was at home.) It was good to rest.
And as we slowly emerge from COVID, I feel drawn to think more deeply about the future of congregations like ours. How do we better understand the cultural and religious shifts now underway? What new and significant thing is God doing at Trinity? And how do we keep listening for the Spirit’s guidance to be a part of this mission in the coming years?
To quote Wayne Gretzky: “I skate to where the puck is going to be; not to where it has been.”
Entering these 12 weeks, my hope was to find where the puck was going to be. (Or, at least, I’d love to figure out how to find the puck!)
During this sabbatical, I worshiped with a rich variety of church communities, both online and in-person. I wanted to find congregations our size (or bigger) and see how they did what they did. I wanted to enjoy the experience of sitting in the pew (or in some cases, the theater seat).
Lori and I worshipped at:
- Zumbro Lutheran Church in Rochester
- Hosanna Lutheran Church in Lakeville
- Trinity Lutheran Church in Mason City
- Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California
- Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines (online)
- Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City (online)
- Calvary Lutheran Church in Alexandria (online)
- North Point Church in Atlanta, Georgia
- St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi
- St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie
It was a wide range of worship experiences. And it was interesting to see how each church welcomed us as visitors.
During this sabbatical, I traveled. I traveled on four short trips during the sabbatical:
- During the second week of sabbatical, Lori and I traveled to the north shore of Lake Superior to rest, read, hike and explore.
- Lori and I traveled to southern California. I visited innovative congregations and colleagues in Los Angeles and San Diego.
- Lori and I visited congregations in Iowa. Unfortunately, COVID canceled our plans to visit churches in Kansas and Nebraska.
- I traveled to Atlanta, Georgia and then to Charlotte, North Carolina, to spend time at large congregations and to learn from them.
During this sabbatical, I read. I deeply appreciated the opportunity to do some reading during this time. Books I read during sabbatical included:
- How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going; Leadership in a Liminal Season by Susan Beaumont
- Galilean Journey; The Mexican American Promise by Virgilio Elizondo
- Reviving the Congregation; Pastoral Leadership in a Changing Context by Rev. Michael Foss
- Inventing Latinos; A New Story of American Racism by Laura Gomez
- Lead Like it Matters by Rev. Craig Groeschel
- Churches in the Crisis of Decline by Dr. Andrew Root
- Beyond Church Walls; Cultivating a Culture of Change by Rev. Dr. Rick Rouse
- A Church Beyond Belief; The Search for Belonging and the Religious Future by Rev. Dr. William Sachs and Rev. Michael Bos
- Not in it to Win it by Rev. Andy Stanley
During this sabbatical I wrote. One of my sabbatical commitments was to write. I hoped to process both my thinking and my experiences. I wrote over 40 short blog posts in the 90 days of sabbatical. These blog posts can be found at testdrivingtheology.org.
During this sabbatical, I spent time at the southern border. As the demographics in Steele County shift (and will continue to shift), I want to better understand the Latino culture. I was able to spend 2 days with a friend who is a pastor in San Diego. His congregation does a lot of work on the border with refugees. He took Lori and I across into Mexico to experience the lives and the culture of those who live there, and to understand better the issues around immigration, refugees, and those in need. It was a powerful experience.
During this sabbatical I spent time with Lori and Sam. Lori, Sam and I were able to spend a lot of our time together during these 12 weeks. (Nathan was away, working at Sky Ranch Lutheran Camp). While we were all busy in our own ways, we were able to share meals together, talk, watch movies, binge TV shows together and go for walks. It was good for us to be able to be together. I am grateful for this time.
Most valuable of all was simply the chance to slow down, rest, and listen anew for the still small voice of God. I had rich and unrushed times of prayer and scripture reading. I reconnected with trusted mentors and other friends in ministry, and I reflected on what God has taught me during these 8 years as one of your pastors.
I was grateful for the people of Trinity, who were extremely respectful of my desire to disengage pastorally and so kind and supportive in my taking leave and returning.
And from all accounts, it seems to have been a vibrant and positive 12 weeks for Trinity. Worship services, summer trips, pastoral care of those in needs and countless other ministries all took place without skipping a beat. I’m deeply grateful to our pastoral team, our wonderful staff, and to all our congregation leaders who led and served faithfully in my time away. I am particularly grateful to Tanyia for taking the point with the staff and congregational leadership.
Did I find where “the puck is going to be?” Not in the way that I expected. But I was reminded that if we listen for God’s voice and to the community around us, if we are faithful, and if we are responsive to the needs that arise, we are already where “the puck is going to be.” I believe that Trinity is moving in the direction that God calls us.
There is much more to share from these weeks, and I would be happy to do that with any of you individually, or with the council, as you see fit.
Thank you, once again, for this remarkable gift.
Rev. Todd Buegler
August 15, 2022