As you know, FPCY is the recipient of a $50,000 Clergy Renewal Program Grant from the Lilly Foundation which includes a 4-month sabbatical for our Co-Pastor Chip Low, as well as sabbatical opportunities for the congregation. Last month, we started sharing parts of the proposal with you as a way of inviting the congregation to enter into this Sabbatical time more fully and intentionally. Here is what Chip’s portion of the sabbatical looks like:
Question 3. Present a thorough narrative description of the pastor’s activities and timeline for the renewal program. Include a brief description and a rationale for each of these activities. This section is where you will give the fullest description of your plans and describe how the pieces fit together into a coherent whole.
This renewal program will embody what author Pico Iyer writes about travel: “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves, and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again – to slow time down and get taken in and fall in love once more.” My pilgrimage includes journeys in the 4 cardinal directions. In each direction, I will make time for myself, as well as have travel companions whose love, community, and relationships I count on deeply for my own wellbeing and renewal.
During the first stage of my renewal pilgrimage, I will travel north to enter sabbatical time and a contemplative path. I will visit several locations that provide opportunities for retreat and allow me to cultivate solitude and a slower pace. For example, I would like to spend several days at the Weston Priory in Vermont where I will participate in communal life and spiritual disciplines like worship and prayer, communion and meals with the brothers. I would also like to begin a 3-year program with the School of Earth & Soul in Celtic Christian spirituality offered by Dr. John Phillip Newell of the Iona Community in Scotland. Celtic spirituality’s focus on the interconnectedness of all things will help me to integrate all that I have learned on this contemplative journey into the next directions of my sabbatical.
Next, I will head south (and west) to tour the Grand Circle region of Utah, Arizona, and Colorado with my wife and children as my companions. My family loves to travel and experience the outdoors together, but the pace of life and the constant draw of computer and cellphone screens can easily take our attention off one another, as well as the beauty of creation. This 4-week trip will allow me uninterrupted time with my family at a slower pace away from the competing demands and distractions of daily life. We will enjoy hiking, exploring National Parks (such as Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, and Arches), playing games, talking, and enjoying each other’s company. Not only will this provide us time to explore a place we’ve never been, but it will allow us to do some faith formation as well, praying, practicing mindfulness, and thinking about how the pace of a pilgrim can help my children better understand and appreciate both themselves and God’s presence with them.
The third direction takes me east to Scotland for 3 weeks with my wife. As co-parents and co-pastors of a church, we look forward to a time of renewal at a pace that allows us to be together without the demands of daily ministry and family in a place we have wanted to visit for many years. We will first spend time on retreat at the Iona Community, of which we are associate members and where we will enter the rhythm of life in community and explore this sacred island. Then we will spend 9 days walking the West Highland Way, beginning outside Glasgow and walking north to Fort William through some of the most beautiful scenery of the Scottish Highlands. Finally, we will spend a few days in Inverness, visiting Loch Ness and Culloden. Even just envisioning this time with my wife brings me joy. I did not marry her to be a co-pastor. I married her to be partners in life together, and I look forward to reconnecting with her at a pace that allows us to renew our commitment to one another and look to the future together.
The final direction of my sabbatical journey goes west to Michigan where I can continue to integrate the many learnings and practices of the previous directions as I spend time with good friends as companions on the journey. I will first stay at Lindisfarne, a retreat center started by long-time friends in Tecumseh who have named their center after the ancient pilgrimage site in Scotland. In addition to renewing our friendship, I will help them with the harvest of their farm as a way to think about what my sabbatical time has harvested for me and my church. Then I will meet up with a friend and colleague who introduced me to the community life of Iona and my first experience of pilgrimage on the Camino. He has been a spiritual companion, friend, and support to me in many ways, and this time together will renew our friendship as we travel to Grayling to stay at a cabin on the AuSable River where we can kayak, fly-fish, and reflect together on our lives and ministry. In these places and with these friends, I plan to reflect on the pilgrimage as a whole and further develop my thoughts and learnings to share with my congregation as I think about how to re-enter my life and ministry.
At the end of this pilgrimage, I will return to the center of the compass, which is my faith and life, my wife and children, my call and the special congregation I have served for over a decade.
Note: Due to pandemic complications, we have had to re-design Chip’s portion of the sabbatical to be taken over two years. This summer, Chip travels south with his family to spend a month in the American Southwest, in addition to vacation time in July/August and some continuing education time later in October. Then next year, he will travel in the other three directions (north, east and west) to complete his sabbatical journey.