Five Smooth Stones in a Stream of Change

by Pastor Doug Kelly (from June/July/August 2019 Briefs)

Then David took his shepherd’s staff, selected five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the pocket of his shepherd’s pack, and with his sling in his hand approached Goliath.  
I Samuel 17:40, The Message

As many of you know I will be on sabbatical July 14 – October 20.   Bethany’s Personnel Policy defines sabbatical as “a period away from usual work responsibilities provided as a time of spiritual renewal for the employee and as an aid to improved, long-term ministry for Bethany.  A sabbatical should improve the quality of one’s service to the Bethany congregation and serve as an incentive for the resumption of program or pastoral duties with renewed skills, enthusiasm and energy.”

My sabbatical is focused on a balanced engagement with five smooth stones of my life.  There are not five stones of ministry tasks.  No.  Session wants me to move out of the fast moving stream of ministry and into what replenishes.  These five stones that make Doug Kelly sing are people, place, hiking and walking, prayer and scripture, and serious theological work. 

People:  I will spend some time and engage in rich conversation with family members, friends and ministerial mentors.   I want to slow down with some important people in my life and query pastoral colleagues and mentors about practices to finish well as I’m about to enter my last decade of pastoral ministry.  Place:  I’m going to re-visit pivotal places in my spiritual journey as well as new places like Vermont.   I’m going get out of the car and the hotel room to step into my third smooth stone–Hiking and walking.  I’ll be hiking a new trail in the Yosemite back country, pounding 4 serious day hikes at Rainier, walking parts of Vermont with my son, and looking forward to some urban walking in Emerald City. No bus, no train, no car.  I want to be able to “feel” each place.  Prayer and Scripture:  Besides my spiritual practice of Benedictine daily offices, I will be practicing lectio divina with a new psalm each week and committing that psalm to memory.  

And finally, my heart sings with some Serious Theological Work around the theme: Embrace of Difference in the New Testament and Lessons for Racial and Theological Diversity in the Church.  I will explore how first century Hebrew Christians and Gentile Christians navigated the huge cultural differences in worshiping Jesus and eating meals together.   I am hopeful for some insights that might speak to whiteness and racial issues in the church and our culture.  There might be insights for Bethany’s navigation of theological difference.

Ministry at Bethany will continue in my absence.  The Session is ready for summer and fall; staff and lay leaders are implementing ministry programs and Lynne Baab will act as Pastor for Staff Support; staff transitions are set; and Linda Cutshall will offer her usual pastoral care with other ordained clergy on call.

Thank you for providing your staff with a serious sabbatical policy, for releasing me for personal and spiritual renewal, and for your prayers for me and Bethany in this season.