- Deseret News - Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pastors in 35 states will be able to take some time off for study, reflection and personal renewal thanks to grants from an Indiana-based foundation.

Twenty-six congregations in Indiana, and another 144 in 34 additional states, submitted winning grant proposals, according to the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. The seminary, an ecumenical institution affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), administers the Clergy Renewal Program Grants for the Lilly Endowment, which funds the grants.

“We can think of no better way to honor these hardworking, faithful men and women than to help them experience personal growth and spiritual renewal in ways that they themselves design and find meaningful,” Christopher L. Coble, the group’s vice president for religion, said in a statement. “We regularly hear that these renewal experiences are transformative for pastors, their families and their congregations.”

And the Rev. Dr. Robert Saler, who administers the programs at Christian Theological Seminary added, “The program … provides a means for congregations to express appreciation for their leader’s service and respect for his or her health and energy for continued ministry.”

Congregations could apply for as much as $50,000 to be used in offering sabbatical time to pastors and pastoral families, the announcements stated. Up to $15,000 of the grant could be used for interim clergy salaries as well.

In a high-stress profession where stories of burnout are not uncommon, the concept of taking a sabbatical — derived from the English word Sabbath, signifying a day of rest and abstaining from work — is not uncommon. A 2015 survey conducted by LifeWay Research for the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Missions Board reported 20 percent of pastors saying their families resent the amount of time their church work demands, with 35 percent saying their work decreases the amount of time they can spend with their families.

The Rev. Joel Shenk of Ohio’s Toledo Mennonite Church valued the family time he was able to spend on a 2014 sabbatical funded by a Lilly grant.

“We went to Los Angeles, where I was in seminary, and then we went to Tanzania, where we have a sister church, and then Germany, where I also have some friends,” the Rev. Shenk, 33, told the Toledo Blade newspaper. “We spent 50 days abroad in five different countries speaking three different languages.”

The Rev. Gerald Gunderson, a Roman Catholic priest and pastor of Mary, Seat of Wisdom parish in Park Ridge, Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune that his six-month, Lilly funded sabbatical enabled him to visit Israel and to trace the journeys of St. Paul in Turkey and Greece, as well as visit a Catholic church in Zambia.

“I came off the sabbatical with a deeper sense that God is in charge of the journey and that he will show me what lies ahead,” the Rev. Gunderson told the newspaper. “I was going to see places I had never seen before, but in a spiritual sense, I feel God is continuing to take me to lands he wants to show me and ultimately that land is heaven.”

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