From the Pastor: Sabbatical Update

Hello, Memorial Baptist family and friends!  As the month of July draws to a close, it feels like I finally have a bit of time to catch my breath.

Last month I wrote a bit about the hectic pace of the start of my sabbatical, and feeling a bit torn between being excited at all the great things we’ve been able to do, and a bit anxious about the amount of things I’d taken on.

I’m grateful to say that through the process, God has been good, and I feel like I’m in a good place as we get into the last phase of the sabbatical.

In my last article, I wrote about the start of the sabbatical learning group, the books I have been reading, and the epic tour Gabrielle and I were able to make of national parks in Utah and Arizona.

After being home for just under two days (47 hours, as Gabrielle noted), I flew out to Denver with my friend and colleague, Ron Riemersma, to spend a week driving for a storm chasing tour company.  Each of us drove a vanload of guests under the leadership of our tour director.  We witnessed spectacular supercell thunderstorms almost every day, and were able to take many pictures of cloud structure, lightning, and even a few tornadoes.  One of the things I enjoy about driving for the tour is getting to meet people from across the country and indeed across the world.  As we got to know each other better, I had the opportunity to talk about my sabbatical project about learning from the journeys of those who are no longer part of a faith community that they grew up in, and it was interesting how a number of the guests resonated with that and shared of their own experiences.

The first week of July was filled with reading and welcoming my parents who came up for the 4th of July.  It was great to spend some time with them as well as reconnecting with Memorial folks who came to Lakeside park for “Beans and Booms”.

Then it was off to Camp Tamarack for a week as the camp pastor for the 5th and 6th grade campers.  Although it initially seemed like one more good thing too many in the summer, it was literally a Godsend, as I was able to talk with kids about the summer theme of God’s creation as well as move ahead on my reading, completing the rest of the reading list for our Sabbatical learning group.  I read Diana Butler Bass’ book Grounded, on the importance of living out our faith in a way that emphasizes God’s presence and the importance of our neighbors and of creation.  David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me focuses on Pew research studies around young adults who have disconnected from church and/or their faith.  Tony and Bart Campolo’s book Why I Left, Why I Stayed, is a loving, respectful and open conversation between father and son about why Bart no longer believes in the Christian faith, and why Tony still does.  I also completed Tod Bolsinger’s book Canoeing the Mountains, which I’d started last month.

In the last two weeks of July, I’m doing interviews with people in connection with the sabbatical project and working on some additional reading, including pastor Carey Nieuwhof’s book Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.  Nieuwhof writes from a “church growth/megachurch” perspective, but the observations and questions he raises are important ones to consider, and I’m looking forward to the conversations this book will spark.

I know some folks have wondered where I go on Sunday morning – and the answer is that when I’ve been in town, I’m visiting other area churches, including Salem UMC, Thrive, Church of Our Saviour, and Covenant UMC.  The interesting thing is that this must be the year for Sabbaticals, as I know of at least four other local clergy who are on sabbatical this summer!

The last few weeks of sabbatical in August will be focused on integrating what we’ve learned and working to identify how we can use this to grow our church in health and impact as well as what opportunities may exist beyond the walls of the church to help people connect with each other and with God.

Part of being on Sabbatical is intentionally being “out of the loop” to a degree, but I’ve been encouraged to hear of the ministries and activities that have continued on through the summer.  I’m grateful for the hard and faithful work of our leaders: in the Diaconate and in the Administrative team, of the Property team as the remodeling work continues, the worship team and worship leaders, and the congregation as a whole as they care for one another in the ups and downs of life – embodying what it means to be a community in the image of Jesus.

This July marked 18 years of ministry together at Memorial Baptist Church, and I am blessed to be a part of this community, in all of our gifts and in the midst of our struggles and challenges – because that’s why God calls us together so that we can make His presence tangible.

As much as this sabbatical is a blessing, and as much as there’s left to do – I am looking forward to rejoining you all fully in ministry soon.  Until then, God’s peace and God’s blessing be with you all.

Blessings on the journey!

Pastor Brian