Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Forming a sabbatical group

This paper was discussed at the District Church Council meeting in March 2009

I'm on renewal leave from Monday 13 April (the day after Easter) until Saturday 11 July (the day before the joint parish service at St Peter's at the beginning of the school summer holidays). In my planning for this period, I've tried to learn from those who've taken a similar break from parish ministry. Clergy Renewal - The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning was very helpful. It confirmed what I'm hoping for, that this can be an important time of growth for the church, not just for its minister.

There are opportunities to maximise and dangers to avoid. First, the opportunities:

  • an opportunity for others to share in leadership in deeper ways.
  • an opportunity for St Paul's to recognise the lay leaders and their specific role in the church community.
  • a new perspective to leadership, fresh thinking and insight.
  • an opportunity to follow God's leading in a different kind of time, with the expectation that he has directions in which to take us during the spring and beyond.
  • preparation for the inevitable (but not imminent) time when there will be a clergy vacancy at St Paul's.

These are the dangers that it would be wise to avoid:

  • a stagnation in our growth or missed opportunities due to ideas being put on hold until I return.
  • confusion about who is responsible for decisions.

This paper sets out my thinking, following conversations with others, about the way we might best go forward.

The place of a Sabbatical Group within existing shared leadership
St Paul's already has an extensive pattern of shared leadership. We are part of a team ministry, in which the Team Rector exercises leadership and oversight. The PCC and DCC are responsible for policy decisions and the spending of money. The chair, secretary and treasurer of the PCC and DCC have leading roles. The parish churchwardens and their assistants are called to be 'foremost among the laity', they have legal responsibilities and have a key role in stewardship of buildings. Our Reader is entrusted not only to preach and lead worship but to share in the leadership of the worshipping community. In addition to these nationally-recognised roles, we have a Home Groups Co-ordinator, CTO Representatives, Music Worship Leaders, Co-ordinator of Children's and Youth Work, Lettings Secretary and Administrator. And, of course, there are many who lead groups for adults and children and offer ministry in other ways. This is a very well developed and strong pattern, which contributes enormously to the life of St Paul's.

Nevertheless, the vicar of St Paul's, perhaps in part due to the fact of living 'on-site', tends to be the first point of reference for people who wish to raise an issue. I find that very often, I can respond by giving information, a quick decision, or advice about where an issue needs to be discussed. Some things are straightforward and can be responded to without reference to others. But I take many issues to my regular meetings with churchwardens, the clergy team, the PCC standing committee, to the DCC and to specific leaders.
I'm sure that in my absence, things will work more smoothly if there is a new, temporary group, which I've called a 'sabbatical group'. I have asked the churchwarden and assistant warden, the DCC chair and the Reader to form this group.

It's important to stress from the outset that this group does not displace any other leadership body, or take away any role from anyone, except me while I'm away.

The Team Rector continues to have oversight and ultimate responsibility, shared with the PCC and bishop, for the mission of the churches in the parish. But we must ensure that he is not bogged down with a lot of detailed questions about local, St Paul's issues.

The PCC and DCC continue to lead on the policy and the spending of money, but we must ensure that they are not burdened with too many issues about the application of policy, or the spending of reasonable, small amounts (under £100) in the course of church life.

The churchwarden and assistant warden shouldn't be overwhelmed with every question and issue for resolution. They will need a small group of people with whom to check and consult.

Membership of the Sabbatical Group
It's never easy to know where to limit membership of a group. There are many people who could contribute in a valuable way. But a small group has many benefits. In the Reader, churchwarden, assistant warden and DCC chair, we have a very capable group, who may decide that they should invite one or two others to join.

Meetings of the Sabbatical Group
I convened the first meeting of the group. But the group has now made its own decisions about how often and where it meets. I hope that the group will make a priority of prayer, so that the ongoing life of the church is held before God and so that his guidance will be sought.

What if the Sabbatical Group feels that a decision is needed on an important topic?
A key role of the Group is to spot when and where decisions need to be taken, and to involve the right people in the decision. For example, a question about music might be directed to the Music Leaders. Or a problem with the building might be referred to the churchwardens. An issue might be taken to the DCC or PCC. Or a pastoral concern might be referred to the Team Rector or to the Home Group Co-ordinator. In serving the church effectively, the Sabbatical Group will be watchful, prayerful, wise and empowering of others.

Contact point for the congregation and parish
Anyone wishing to raise an issue with the sabbatical group should direct it to the Churchwarden, Paul Webster.

Annual Parochial Church Meeting
The APCM is on 23 April, just two weeks into my renewal leave. It's possible that this will have an impact on the membership of the Sabbatical Group as everyone, apart from the Reader, is subject to re-election.
Role of the Sabbatical Group after the renewal leave ends

I think it's important to signal that the Group is temporary and that its remit ends in the summer. But it would be surprising if the experience didn't lead to clues as to the next steps in the development of shared lay leadership. A key task for the group when I return will be to help me understand 'where St Paul's has got to' and I would be thrilled to listen and learn from the experience.

Simon Harvey
25 March 2009