Sabbatical Excitement is in the Air!

Next year, Sterling will celebrate ten years of service to TBC! In honor of this milestone, the deacons voted recently to grant Sterling a three month-sabbatical during the summer of 2014. This will be a significant time of growth and renewal for Sterling, and for the church. There is much planning to be done for this special time and your input and questions are needed. Plan now to attend lunch and a brief town meeting on Sunday March 3rd after the worship service. In the meantime, here is some information about the process.

What is a sabbatical? A sabbatical is a paid period of leave from work for research, study, travel, and rest. A sabbatical is not a vacation, but a time for intentional exploration and reflection, and for renewing enthusiasm and creativity for ministry. It is an intentional time of renewal for the congregation as well. The primary goal of the Clergy Renewal Program is to allow pastors to step away briefly from the daily demands of ministry to engage in a period of renewal and rejuvenation.
How is the sabbatical funded? The church continues to pay the pastor’s salary and benefits as usual. TBC will also apply for a grant from the Clergy Renewal Program to fund:

Sterling’s travel and study opportunities and Up to $15,000 to fund support staff who will help in Sterling’s absence and for special renewal events for the church. The benefits for the pastor are clear, but how does the congregation benefit? In this program, the congregation is an intentional partner in the sabbatical. We will be involved in a special project or study of our own choosing while Sterling is away.

Who will help take leadership in this project? Tracy Hartman, Bill Welstead, Megan Strollo, John Burgess, Art Wright, and Molly Huffstetler will work with Sterling and the congregation through the grant application process. Other key leaders will join the team as the sabbatical time approaches.
Have other local pastors participated in a sabbatical program? Yes, Betty Pugh Mills at Grace Baptist has taken two sabbatical leaves during her 23 years at Grace Baptist. Mark White at Chamberlayne Baptist will participate in this program in the summer of 2013.
Folks from the Clergy Renewal Project report, “When leaders experience renewal, congregations are re-energized, too. Things don’t’ just return to normal when the leader returns. New patterns of leadership emerge. New vision sprouts up.” One church noted, “As members of the congregation, we feel honored to be able to give the gift of time to our Pastor.” I look forward to witnessing how this process will nourish and enrich Sterling and TBC and to sharing our story with others!

Tracy Hartman, Pastoral Renewal Team

National Clergy Renewal Program Press Release

Grant Booklet


On Sunday, March 3rd, TBC members gathered for lunch and a Town Hall meeting to discuss the possibility of a three-month sabbatical leave for our pastor, Sterling Severns.  What follows is a recap of the presentation for those who were unable to attend or for those who would like a review. We will vote on this proposal on Sunday March 17th after worship.


Why is a sabbatical necessary?

  • The average tenure of a pastor in Protestant churches is just 4 years.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
  • 45% of pastors say that depression or burnout could cause them to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week.

To combat these dismal statistics and to seek to strengthen congregations, the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program provides grants that allow pastors to step away briefly from the daily demands of ministry to engage in a period of renewal and rejuvenation.  The director of the clergy renewal program notes, “Pastors need time away from their congregations to gain new perspectives.  This program frees them up to pursue interests that will renew their passions for ministry.”  One pastor reported, “The renewal program was life-changing.  It will give shape to the next ten years of my ministry at the church and in the community.  It has enlarged my vision and renewed my call and commitment to ministry.”


In 2014, Sterling will have completed ten years of service as our pastor, more than 2.5 times the national average already.  During these years, he has helped us turn from a declining, struggling congregation to a vibrant, growing, downtown church with a strong sense of mission and purpose.  These accomplishments have been the result of hard work and dedication on the part of many members of our church family, but the reality is that a pastoral leader carries a unique load and responsibility.  Recognizing and honoring his ten years of exemplary service, the deacons voted in their last meeting to recommend that the church grant Sterling and his family a three month sabbatical during the summer of 2014.


Benefits to the congregation. Congregations often rediscover their own gifts and strengths while their pastor is away.  The grant provides funding for the congregation to engage in some renewal of their own and to compensate those who step up to fulfill the pastoral responsibilities while the pastor is away.


The best sabbaticals center on a theme. As his theme, Sterling has chosen “Coming Home for the Very First Time.”  This phrase comes from the book The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church by Diana Butler Bass. She writes,

“…If my assertion is correct that a new kind of mainline congregation has come into being, it means that this process of imagination and reintegration has already been underway in some congregations and with some clergy. Many of the congregations in my study have actually reported ‘near-death’ experiences, crises of membership, money, vision, or leadership that fostered imaginative processes already moving in the congregation. The ability to give up or surrender their received notions of church-as-institution provided a kind of spiritual entry point into creating new patterns of being church. In the case of these congregations, that meant reaching back into Christian history and appropriating and reworking traditions and practices that met contemporary challenges. … their imaginative exploration led them home, and they knew that place for the first time.

The key to all this (reimagining) is good storytelling. Pilgrims, either an individual or group, who have journeyed into the place of imagination and risk, must be able to come home and relate the tale. They must be able to relate what theyy have seen-the view from the roof or airplane window. They must be able to help others see what they have seen-opening the visionary possibilities of the whole community and authentically embody the story that they have shared. They must show how the story transformed them.”

Sabbatical can be an important part of this ongoing re-imagining in the life of TBC.


Sterling’s plans for the sabbatical:

  1. A time of retreat, first, coming home to rest in God.
  2. A trip to the Holy Land, coming home for the first time to the roots of our faith. (This experience will enrich his preaching and teaching when he returns.)
  3. Several trips that will allow him to come home to his family in significant ways (some proposals have been rejected because they do not contain enough family time and play).
  4. A trip to Burma, coming home for the first time to the land of our Burmese families.  This trip will enrich Sterling’s understanding of Burmese history and culture and better equip him to lead this ministry.
  5. Travel will be interspersed with down time at home to read, rest, and observe Sabbath.

What might the church do for renewal while Sterling is away?

This is for us to decide together.  Here is one possibility: Over the years, TBC has becoming a calling and sending congregation. From seminarians to missionaries, we have nurtured folks, provided internships, ordained, and then sent countless members out with our blessing to minister all over the world.  Instead of cutting ties when they leave, we have intentionally worked to build bridges and nurture relationships.  This culture of call has expanded to include a large number of our lay folks who have been called to serve on Site Teams, to minister alongside our refugees, to engage our children and youth through music, tutoring, mission and Godly Play to name a few.

One proposal would be to use 25% of the congregational portion of the grant money to send teams to visit and encourage those we have sent out to minister elsewhere. Teams would plan a special activity, worship in the former member’s new setting, and allow them to reflect on how their TBC home nurtured them and continues to sustain them.  When teams return, they would take time in worship to share news and testimony about their visits.  This proposal would allow us to strengthen our culture of call and to be more intentional in our practices with those who come home to TBC for the very first time.

How will we cover Sterling’s responsibilities while he is away? 

The grant provides funding to minimize the hardship on existing staff members while the pastor is away.  We are fortunate to have a number of good options including: hiring a summer intern to work with youth and children to free up Judy’s time to focus on other things, providing a stipend to John Burgess to assist the staff in hospital and home bound visits, retain Dan Schumacher to serve in a pastoral function during the sabbatical or hire a regular interim preacher.

Your ideas and suggestions are an important part of this process.  Please contact Tracy Hartman, Bill Welstead, Molly Huffstetler, Art Wright, Megan Strollo, or John Burgess to share your thoughts.  You may also view the ballot on the church website at  Plan to be present on March 17th as we vote on this important gift for our pastor.

 Tracy Hartman, Pastor Renewal Team Leader

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