20 November 2008

A Sabbath Rest

Hebrews 4 has long been one of my favorite chapters in Scripture, particularly for the promise that "there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God" (Heb. 4:9). Just as God rested from His labors, says the writer to the Hebrews (and, yes, I like either St. Paul or Apollos for that honor), we too may look forward to a Sabbath rest. Of course, Hebrews 4 is speaking of the "rest" of our salvation and eternal life with the Holy Trinity.

However, I think this promised rest will take on more meaning these next six months as I will take a much-needed sabbatical leave - a.k.a. "sabbath rest" - from parish duties. Now that it's been publicized in my parish, I can speak of it here in this forum. Beginning 30 November 2008 I will take a sabbatical leave in order to rest, get rejuvenated, re-establish good study habits, and thus return to parish duties after 31 May 2009 with renewed vigor and focus.

You see, I must admit that I have been battling depression and burnout for the past couple of years. For those years I always thought, "I can shake this off," or "I can get re-focused," or other such self-motivational notions. But when you have that chemical imbalance in the brain that the doctors call "depression," such self-motivation just doesn't go very far or last very long. In fact, with bona fide depression (as opposed to having that gloomy day that hits everyone every once in a while), I have discovered firsthand that someone with depression can walk out the door first thing in the morning, greet a warm, bright, sunny, cloudless day, and it still seems as though the world is enveloped in a cool, overcast haze. My variety of depression has been marked, not by anxiety, but by apathy. Much of what I used to like and love (vocation, interests, hobbies, etc.) just hasn't mattered. "Ah, what's the point?" becomes one's motto with this kind of depression.

And then there's the burnout. I never thought of myself as a candidate for such a thing - never thought it would happen to me (You mean my clerical shirts aren't emblazoned with that big "S" for "Superpastor"? :-). But then, thanks to an article by Rev. Matt Harrison on sabbaticals, I decided to read Roy Oswald's book called Clergy Self-Care. As Oswald distilled several quotes on what burnout is, I'd swear the page in the book turned into a mirror reflecting the real me. Here's how Oswald described "burnout":
• Decreased energy—physically, the individual has difficulty keeping the pace.
• Decreased self-esteem—the individual feels a sense of personal failure related to work or vocation.
• Output exceeding input—the person has poured more and more of him/herself into a job or project, and the expected payoff or rewards are not forthcoming.
• Sense of helplessness, hopelessness, being trapped—the individual is unable to perceive alternate ways of functioning.
• Loss of idealism—the individual’s worldview has been shattered.
• Cynicism and negativism—the individual is down on self, others, the job, institutions, etc.
• Self-depletion—the individual’s resources to continue seem to be diminishing (Clergy Self-Care, p. 59).
Even though Oswald wrote and published those words back in 1991, I was sure that he must have been looking over my shoulder the past several months.

So, anyway, long story short, the past couple of months have been filled with seeing a counselor, seeing a doctor for the physical aspects (How about that, tests certainly can show imbalances and deficiencies in the body), discussing these matters with my congregation's elders, researching the whole notion of "sabbatical leave," and making plans for such a leave. (And that explains the paucity of posts here on the blog, a problem I hope to remedy real soon, perhaps with something of a "Sabbatical Journal" feature.) I must thank the Lord for giving me caring and understanding elders, as well as a very supportive congregation. This is new for all of us, but it's also an exciting time as we think of a renewed, refreshed relationship between pastor and people here at Hope.

What will I do for six months without the hustle and bustle of parish duties? I plan to spend Christmas - on Christmas - with my family in Oregon/Washington (something, of course, that we've not been able to do in 18 years of parish ministry). Reconnecting with family is supposed to be quite healing. I also plan to dive back into reading the Scriptures in their original languages, explore the new (for me) waters of early church fathers such as Ambrose, Chrysostom and others, sit in on a seminary class on patristic commentaries on John's Gospel, enroll in the "Doxology" program, and take some private retreats for prayer and study. Essentially, I'm looking forward to just being fed and "filled up" in order that I may return to my parish with renewed focus and zeal to serve the Lord and proclaim His Gospel.

And one final note before I share the statement that our Board of Elders has read and sent out. I've been amazed by the rapidity with which this news of my upcoming sabbatical has spread, and I've been especially surprised at how many people say, "Good for you!" But I must clarify one thing. The grapevine told me the other day that one report--from a branch on the grapevine most convinced of his "facts"--has put me "on disability." Well, to set the record straight: that's *not* true. I am not on disability; I will be on sabbatical. The goal is to rest and rejuvenate and thus avoid the whole disability thing. Please help the accurate details of my sabbatical story to course through the "grapevine."

Here's the statement that my Board of Elders has approved, has read after Divine Services a couple of Sundays ago, and has sent out to the whole congregation via postal mail:
Fellow Members of Hope:

For the past couple of months the Board of Elders has been discussing ways that our congregation takes care of our pastors. We call our pastors to preach, teach, give out the Sacraments, provide pastoral care to individuals and groups, and administer the day-to-day work of the congregation. This work often involves a seven-day-a-week schedule that sacrifices days off and time with family. Over time pastors need time for rest, renewal, and rejuvenation in order to keep serving the Church and our congregation.

Pastor Asburry has been serving the Church for 18 years, most of that time here at Hope, first as Associate Pastor and now as Senior Pastor. He prepares two sermons each week, one for Sunday and one for Wednesday. He teaches Bible classes, Adult Catechism classes, and a theology class at Hope School. He has also taught Youth Catechesis and Latin at the school. He regularly provides pastoral care to people who are shut-in and hospitalized; he prepares couples for marriage; performs Christian burials; and often provides pastoral counsel and deals with conflict resolution issues that arise. He carries out regular administrative duties and attends meetings of the Board of Elders, the Fiscal Board, the Board of Christian Education, and the Voters Assembly. In addition to this, for the past two years Pastor Asburry has been dealing with depression and burnout. Martin Luther once said something that describes what Pastor Asburry has been going through: “My head is like a dull knife. It just won’t cut anymore.”

The Board of Elders wants to take care of Pastor Asburry so that he can continue taking care of us with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Board has unanimously agreed to grant Pastor Asburry a sabbatical leave beginning November 30, 2008, and lasting until May 31, 2009. Sabbatical leaves flow out of the Days of Creation and are a good way for congregations to take care of their pastors. The 2007 LCMS Convention encourages congregations to take care of their pastors in this way and says, “A sabbatical is a time to receive, to be nurtured, and to reflect on one’s relationship with God so that one may be renewed, refreshed, and revitalized for a life of service to others” (Resolution 6-08). Pastor Asburry’s counselor has also recommended a sabbatical leave to deal with his depression and burnout. This sabbatical leave will give Pastor Asburry time to reflect on his work as a pastor, reestablish a regimen of daily study, reconnect with family, and rejuvenate himself to continue serving Hope Church and School. During this time he will enroll in the Doxology program for clergy study and renewal, attend several retreats and conferences, attend a class at Concordia Theological Seminary, and continue to see his counselor.

During Pastor’s sabbatical leave, Kantor Rosebrock will take care of the administrative duties at Hope, preach at Wednesday services, provide pastoral care for those in the hospital, and officiate at funerals and care for the grieving families. Pastor Preus will visit shut-ins and help with preaching. Pastor Egger and Pastor Maxwell will preside at Sunday Divine Services and, along with Pastor Fritsche and our seminary field education students, assist with preaching and teaching. This sabbatical leave will be financed by donations secured by the Board of Elders so that Pastor Asburry will continue to receive his regular salary and benefits and so that the congregation will not have extra expenses.

Please keep Pastor Asburry in your daily prayers during this sabbatical leave, especially that he may be rejuvenated and revitalized to serve Hope. Also, pray for those who take on extra duties to serve our congregation during this time. Finally, pray that God will use this time of sabbatical leave to enrich our life together as God’s people here at Hope.

Board of Elders
Approved, 3 November 2008
Read after Divine Services, 9 November 2008


Rev. James Leistico said...

Re: Doxology - I'll be in Springfield this January. You too?

Randy Asburry said...

Yep, that's the one - as soon as I get my registration sent in, that is.

Christopher D. Hall said...

Good for you, and I pray God's blessings for you. How fortunate you are to have so many pastors available to fill in for your absence!

You're in my prayers, Randy.

Randy Asburry said...

Thanks for your prayers, Chris! Yes, God has blessed us with good brother clergy who can fill in for me. It's a great comfort to know that the flock I dearly love will be in good hands during my absence. I guess it always helps for a pastor to be reminded that it's really the Lord's flock, and that He is the One who feeds and tends them.

Anonymous said...


I love a comment made by a seminarian back in my day: "It's the Lord's Church...I only work here."

I will pray that your sabbatical will be refreshing and renewing for you. We'll miss you around here.

Tom Fast

Randy Asburry said...

Hi, Tom.

That's a great quote, one I've used many times before. Thanks for your prayers. I hope that it will be refreshing and renewing as well.

But as for missing me "around here," I don't plan on being absent from the blogosphere (so you can't get rid of me that easily! :-).

Paul McCain said...

Randy, God bless your sabbatical, and may it be a time of rich renewal and strengthening for you and your family!!