March 1, 2023
A Note from Pastor April
On Sunday I shared with the congregation that I’ll be taking a few months away this late summer and fall for a season of renewal leave (July 16-November 13). In the United Methodist Church, pastors are encouraged by our Book of Discipline to take some time away every six years for rest and renewal.
Both Pastor Jon and I took a time of renewal leave before we began our appointments here at HUMC. I can’t tell you how essential that time was for myself and my family, and the ways that it helped prepare me for and sustain me over the last 6½ years of ministry.
It has taken me a LONG time to fully understand the importance of creating rhythms of rest and renewal in my life.
For most of my life, my identity has been very wrapped up in whatever I’m doing. Whether it was a course in school, the lesson plans I wrote as a science teacher, or time as a volunteer at my son’s school, I poured myself into the work and gave it everything I had.
I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I had a powerful internal narrative at work:
If you do the work well and/or achieve success,
you will be affirmed by those around you.
If you are affirmed by those around you,
it means that you matter.
You can see how dangerous this narrative can be. Did I matter if I wasn’t doing well? What if I wasn’t working at all?
In seminary I felt the call to begin practicing a weekly Sabbath. This can be tricky for pastors, since Sunday is a work day, so I chose another day of the week. During the first few weeks, I floundered. I made lists of things I was going to do on this day of rest. I didn’t know what to do with this small bit of unstructured time.
The truth was, I didn’t know what it meant to really set down the work and just BE. It felt overly indulgent, even wasteful. There were things I could be getting done! J
As time went on, slowly but surely the wisdom of the Sabbath practice began to seep its way into my body and my heart.
It was on the Sabbath when I would finally allow myself to notice how tired I really was.
It was on the Sabbath when I would finally allow myself to move at a gentle and unhurried pace.
It was on the Sabbath when I started to listen to the undercurrents of my heart, always asking a question, Will I ever be ENOUGH?
Something about putting down the work and tending to the body, heart, and soul was opening up a more honest and authentic relationship with myself and with God. I started noticing how my Sabbath practice was starting to flow into the rest of my busy week.
My prayers were less about the achievements I wanted to make and more about opening my heart to be receptive to what God would bring. I was starting to talk to myself in a less critical and harsh way. I was EVEN finding time amid my busy day to slow down long enough to journal and pray!
Another amazing thing was happening on my Sabbath. When I set my work down for a day, the world kept spinning! No disasters or doom seemed to befall my family or workplace when I didn’t check my email for 24 hours. This was, embarrassingly, a shocking discovery.
Over the following years, I began taking extended retreats for rest and renewal. I didn’t check Facebook or email during these times away. (Pro tip: Monasteries provide amazingly restful, spiritual places of retreat for extremely affordable rates.) Having several days in a row to rest, pray, move slowly, and just BE did wonders for my soul, body, and heart. It soon became a rhythm I wove into my year.
My First Renewal Leave (2016)
I took my first renewal leave in 2016 for two months. The move to Hilliard wasn’t in the plans when the renewal leave was scheduled, but the timing ended up being just right.
I started off this time with a 5-day silent retreat at a monastery in Pennsylvania. I took a brave step and turned off my phone for the entire week. The staff assured me that my husband could reach them if there was a true emergency. (There wasn’t.)
It was strange to eat in silence with the other pilgrims who had come on retreat as well, but something about the space allowed me to go even further when it came to listening to the work of God within me. I walked the grounds, laid in the sun, read for hours, and sat in the quiet chapel and talked to God.
I was honest about the grief I felt about leaving my former church. I sat with my anxiety about coming to Hilliard. Again and again, during this week of silence and throughout the two months, I worked with a steady mantra of acceptance: YOU ARE ENOUGH.
My sister took this picture during the final weeks of my renewal leave after we had hiked to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. It’s still a favorite, as it captures the sense of awe and peace I felt as I prepared to come to HUMC.
When I started ministry at Hilliard, I felt different. I was prioritizing my own inner life in a way I had never done before. The rhythms of silence and meditation that I had practiced during my renewal leave were becoming a part of my daily rhythms. The words “YOU ARE ENOUGH” were flowing well with HUMC’s core belief that God Loves You… No Matter What. I was starting to believe that they were actually true about ME. I was enough. We are all enough.
You are a gift to me
The work we are doing here at HUMC is such a gift to me, as are each of you. I’ve been sensing for these last few years that we are headed into a new season. A season of growth, a season of learning how to do church in new ways, and a season of God asking us to step out of our comfort zones and into our community with love. I want to be ready to do this work with you. I want to be rested, renewed, and rejuvenated for the next years we have together.
This renewal leave will include some of the same rhythms from my previous leave and some space for more learning. I’m taking a 10-day meditation retreat toward the beginning of the time, with the hopes of creating space for me to more fully listen to God. I’ll take some time to vacation with my family. I’m even planning a trip to Europe with a dear friend to accompany her on her first week of hiking the Camino in Spain! I also plan to rest, spend time with family, garden, and move slowly. I have a stack of things I’ve been wanting to read.
I’m excited to have space to dive deeper into the learning I was able to do in the last year about the Stages Model, a fascinating model of how humans develop and grow spiritually throughout the course of their lives. I have a sense that this model could be deeply helpful to churches in the way we understand how to meet people where they are on their growth journey. I’m excited to have some space to wonder and explore.
A Gentler Pace
Mostly, I’m excited to allow these four months to move at a gentler pace, filled with the freedom to put down the work and listen to the Spirit. As it turns out, I AM ENOUGH. I matter, whether I’m achieving or working or doing anything that the world might deem productive.
As we shared on Sunday, Pastor Jon is well equipped to step into leadership during this time away. Retired United Methodist minister, John Hoffman, who came to our church during the pandemic, will be volunteering his time assisting Pastor Jon. I’m taking a small pay cut this year to allow for this time away. Those funds will be redirected to Pastor Jon to compensate him for the additional responsibilities he will be holding during this season.
You’ll hear more in the months to come about some of our plans for these months, but rest assured… the movement and work of the church will continue full steam ahead! We have important work to do together. I’m so grateful to be on this journey with all of you.
In case you needed to hear the words today…
And YOU are ENOUGH.
The Rev. April Blaine