~The View from Above~
The Lord said to Moses: Ascend this mountain…and view the land which I give to the people of Israel…You shall see the land, but you shall not go there.
~Deuteronomy 32:48-49, 52
Dear Members and Friends,
It was the day after Easter, and I needed just one night in the woods. The skies were gray, but the views were vast and beautiful out over Amish farmland far below and ridges in the distance. Shade Mountain, Blacklog Mountain—they were lovely despite their ominous names and the leafless early spring. Tuscarora Mountain loomed largest and furthest to the east. Their ridges looked like enormous ocean waves frozen in their sequence. We stopped briefly at the Stone Mountain Hawk Watch, which is just a high wooden deck on the summit, but the only birds we saw were buzzards circling a hundred feet beneath us. Were they warning us of what was to come, waiting to see our fate? The razorback ridge underfoot offered dramatic panoramas to the east and the west, but you had to watch the ground, too. The stony footing was treacherous. My friend observed that it would be a tough hike indeed if the rocks were snowy or wet. We paused for lunch at a grand westward vista, and there we saw the faintest traces of mist rolling up from the valley. The forecast called for snow, but nothing catastrophic. An hour later, we were stumbling snow-blind back to the car. An April blizzard had caught us on the mountain and turned us back. Frigid wind stung our faces, we couldn’t hear each other over its roar. Ice formed on my beard. No more beautiful views, the entire mountaintop was socked in. It was all we could do to pick our way carefully back over snow-covered rocks to an equally snow-covered car. We would have to drive slowly down a steep, slippery, narrow dirt lane with no guardrails and little visibility. What started off as a ridge walk in Central Pennsylvania had become a doomed attempt to climb Everest.
Too bad, I needed a night in the woods. More than that, I wanted to be in a place where I could look out at the world from above, to get a broader view on things. I felt that by getting a better view in a literal sense I might achieve a bigger, clearer view in a spiritual sense. I might see life and ministry from a truer point of view. That happens! Jesus was always going up mountains to pray, to be tempted, to be transfigured, to die. Moses had Mt. Nebo, and Aaron had Mt. Hor. It’s my fervent hope (and baseless belief) that we all get to see our life’s big picture—at least in the end.
That’s what a pastor’s sabbatical is supposed to be—an opportunity to climb up high and seek a broader view. A clergy sabbatical is not a vacation. The daily, weekly, and seasonal demands of pastoral ministry prevent ministers from thinking about “big picture” issues facing their congregations, things like: Where do we go from here? What are we called to do now? How do we respond in fresh ways to a changing world? A clergy sabbatical is a time of reading-up on trends in the modern church, thoughtful writing, long days of prayer, revisiting the things that ground our ministry, and hopefully a time of spiritual renewal. Our denomination asks congregations to grant sabbaticals for their pastors every seven years because they improve the chances for pastoral longevity at a church, as well as effectiveness in ministry. A sabbatical is not an escape from you; it’s meant to help me serve you better.
Rick Jacobs chaired the committee which called me to be your pastor twelve years ago. He had a few questions about my sabbatical, which is scheduled for June, July, and August. We figured that if he had questions, you might have some, too. So he asked me his questions on camera, and we’re making that interview available to you! Please click on the following link https://youtu.be/-x8c1j9Vu9o to view the 30 minute interview. The link will also be on our website. But please know that you can speak to me directly about anything at all—including this. It is a joy and a privilege to serve as your pastor. I look forward to the heights God calls us to climb together and to serving you with clearer vision.
In Christ’s Peace,