Check out what’s happening this Sunday



by The Reverend Peter Thompson on July 14, 2023

Rest plays a central role in the Christian faith and in our sacred scriptures. The book of Genesis depicts rest as the climax of the entire Creation story: “God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” The book of Exodus includes rest in the list of laws that God himself gives the Israelites: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.” Jesus himself rests from his work and promises rest to those who follow him: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Despite its significance in the Bible, however, rest is something the vast majority of us find difficult to enjoy. Our work responsibilities are as demanding as ever, and, thanks to technology, these responsibilities intrude on us even when we try to step away for a week or a day or an hour. Because of smartphones and social media platforms, we are always connected to anyone who needs to talk to us—for better and for worse.

Even clergy, who try to help others see the significance of rest, often struggle to rest themselves. Most professionals have trouble keeping up with an endless stream of emails, but clergy also face unique challenges in their attempts to achieve work-life balance. We work pretty much every Sunday and often on Saturdays as well. Though most of us have a Sabbath day during the week, our friends and family members typically do not share those days with us, and pastoral emergencies can interrupt even those precious periods.

In part to account for these challenges, and in part to give clergy time for study and inspiration, faith communities have long offered their clergy periodic sabbaticals away from their usual responsibilities. (Our own Rector, Bishop Dean Wolfe, went on a sabbatical last year.) Until recently, it was typically only a Rector, or other senior leader, who had the opportunity for such rest and refreshment, but, acknowledging how demanding congregational ministry can be for everyone, congregations and dioceses now more often extend sabbatical leave to associate clergy as well. The Episcopal Diocese of New York now requires parishes to offer all their clergy sabbaticals after a certain defined period of service, and all St. Bart’s clergy have a sabbatical provision included in their letters of agreement.

I’m grateful that the Rector, with the Vestry’s consent, has approved my plan to take a sabbatical this August, September, and October. I’ll be spending some time in several places, serving as a summer chaplain on Fisher’s Island, visiting friends in Sweden and Germany, nurturing our budding link with St. James’s Piccadilly in London, and enjoying time with family in Washington while learning anew from the cathedral congregation in which I was raised. My partner Matthew recently graduated from law school and this August-October time period coincides with a break he has before beginning work at a firm, making it an especially meaningful time for us to travel together. Though I won’t be checking St. Bart’s email or conducting St. Bart’s business while I’m gone, I plan to write a few entries in a sabbatical blog so that you can follow along on my adventures and to give you a full report when I’m back.

I will miss you all terribly and confess that I feel somewhat guilty about stepping away for a bit. I know that not everyone who deserves a sabbatical has the opportunity I now have, and I know that some of my colleagues will have to pick up the slack while I’m not here. But I’m also tired. I’ve been going pretty much continuously since I was ordained as a priest over eight years ago. Those of you who know me well know that I have a penchant for overwork, and in the wake of COVID-19 I have been working even harder than I had before. In recent weeks and months, I’ve noticed just how ready for a sabbatical I am.

I won’t be gone long—and I can’t wait to see you when I return.


Previous Page