Sabbatical Reflections and Plans

Labyrinth built of rocks and sand; tall southwestern cliff in background

Rev. Beth Chronister

[Notes: This is an excerpt from my January 23 Sermon. Questions about sabbatical coverage while I am away? Look for information at the end of this article.]

“Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart.”

― Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

I arrived to UUC and Seattle in a moment a great anxiety for our country; acutely so for those of us who care deeply about the earth, democracy, and the fates of the people most pushed to the margins. As a still-new minister, I adopted work patterns that reflected this anxiety, often not prioritizing days off and feeling always on call. As I was preaching about sustaining faith and spiritual practices through hard times, I struggled to maintain my own connection to the sacred.

There is a common misconception about ministry that because one works within religious community in service to the holy, then one feels close to God. I have discovered, like many others before me, that to maintain a rich spiritual life within the demands of ministry takes much more intentionality than that. The spiritual life is not incidental or accidental.

This realization honestly has been one of the gifts that has come out of periods of anxiety and exhaustion: the realization that my own energies are finite and my own spiritual life worth tending. We each have been given this “one wild and precious life” and that is a gift too astonishing to ignore or delay.

As I open onto the next four months, I carry with me the intention of rest, but also of reconnection. Specifically, reconnection to the Body:

  • My physical body as my sacred home
  • The Body of the Earth where I so often encounter that which I call God
  • And my ancestral body, seeking the wisdom that sustained the lives of my ancestors and brought meaning to their existence

I am so deeply grateful to this community and to the staff of UUC for providing this opportunity and investing in the vitality of ministry in this way. It is generous beyond measure and I am humbled by it.

My time away from UUC will include time two longer trips to Costa Rica and to Scotland, as well as time with my family in good ol’ Kansas.

In Costa Rica, I will be attending a conference on Integrative Trauma with Bessel van der Kolk who wrote The Body Keeps the Score and Gabor Maté, leading researchers on the impacts of trauma on the body. My partner and I will be traveling together, reconnecting with each other as we immerse ourselves into some of the natural wonder of that beautiful country.

The pilgrimage to Scotland is to visit the lands of my maternal ancestors and learn more about their Celtic culture. I will be visiting the Isle of Iona for a week with theologian and poet, John Philip Newell, to pray in the 6th century abbey there and immerse myself in the study of Celtic Christianity. I will also be walking the West Highland Way, a 96-mile walk from Glasgow to Fort William that actually passes through lands where my ancestors lived and died.

While I am in Washington State I will be reading, writing and walking in the woods. I hope to dedicate energy to those spiritual practices which renew my spirit. I want to practice that which brings vitality and meaning to my life in hopes of creating habits that will sustain me in ministry in the years to come.

I am almost hesitant to share these plans. They might well not come to pass in the ways I’ve imagined with the rising rates of COVID. Everyone I know is fatigued from living two years under stress and confinement. Part of my path right now is to practice gratitude, rather than guilt, for this unique opportunity to deeply listen to my heart and the questions that reside therein.

Whatever might actually come to pass during my time away, I am walking towards the experience as a pilgrimage. Opening myself to encountering life outside the daily ruts of habit, leaving the known, letting go of the scripts of role and responsibility, and seeking God in each unfolding moment.

Friends, I look forward to seeing you on the first Sunday in June. Until then, be good to one another and seek a pace of living that leaves space for wonder.

“A true pilgrimage requires letting go of the very things most people try to hold onto. In seeking after what the soul desires, we become pilgrims with no home but the path the soul would have us follow.” – Michael Meade

UUC Sabbatical Coverage

Pastoral Care: The Rev. Deborah Raible will be rejoining UUC’s staff to support our Pastoral Care Ministries as she has done in years past during ministerial transitions and past sabbaticals. Her work will include supporting UUC’s Care Team and Care Ministries, providing direct pastoral care as needed, offering prayers during Sunday morning worship, pastoral presence on staff, and meeting together with Rev. Jon Luopa as collegial support. Rev. Deborah Raible has been part of UUC her whole life and it is truly a gift to the congregation, Jon and myself to have her joining the staff once more.

Social Justice: Social Justice will be collectively held by the lay leadership with support from the Social Justice Steering Committee and Rev. Jon Luopa. If you have questions about starting a group, taking a position, or exploring a partnership, please contact Brooke Lather-McElligott, chair of the Social Justice Steering Committee. The Equity Team is also available as a resourceful team and consultant for equity issues or initiatives. Please contact Scott Maxson, chair of the Equity Team if you would like to connect with the team.

Wednesday Evening Vespers: The Vespers Team will continue to offer Vespers on the 2nd Wednesday evening of each month at 7:00 p.m. Vespers services will return to only being online-only over the next four months. There are some great themes that are being planned for the 4 months ahead including, on February 9, “Loving Our Bodies” about honoring the bodies we are in this Valentine’s Day. Find the Zoom link in UUC Connect or contact the church office.

Vespers: Spiritual Practices: Melody Moberg will continue to offer Vespers: Spiritual Practices in person on the 4th Tuesday evening of each month at 7:00 p.m. at UUC.

1 Response

  1. Christina Dunlop Morris says:

    Dear Beth: I read with interest your forth coming trip to Scotland. I was born in 1937 and lived in Scotland till I emigrated to the US in 1956. I returned to Scotland many times and visited IONA and know of the places you plan to engage in. My visit was not religiously focused, but I was very impressed with the history of the island, its beauty and atmosphere of quiet grace. I don’t believe we have met, but I have met Jon and was a longtime, active member of Shelter Rock, in Manhasset, L.I. where I lived prior to moving to Seattle and joining UUC in 2016-17. Enjoy your travels/pilgrimage. Christina Dunlop Morris.