So now that my formal leave request is submitted and we have announced to the congregation and etc etc, I can answer the big question: what on earth am I going to be doing after June 30?
Some of you are familiar with our itinerant appointment system in the United Methodist Church. Some of you are not. Let me explain briefly: I am an ordained elder in full connection with the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. Essentially, this means I belong to one of the strongest unions still in existence. It's a closed shop. I am tenured. Unless I do something ridiculously unethical (or choose to surrender my credentials), I will retain that tenure for the rest of my life.
The covenant that I have made, in exchange for this lifetime guaranteed appointment/job/minimum salary, is that I will itinerate. This means that the bishop and cabinet will assign me to a church somewhere within the geographical confines of middle Tennessee. I get some input into this decision, but at the end of the day: I am assigned. There are a hundred reasons why John Wesley thought this was such a good idea in the late 1700s, but that's not really what I'm gonna talk about today.
There are some accommodations that can be made in the case of those who need to take leave, while retaining full connection in the conference. You can be placed on leave (involuntary), or take voluntary leave for transitions or the care of family. I have submitted a request for one year of voluntary family leave, to begin July 1 of this year. After seven years under full-time appointment, I will not be taking an appointment for 2017-2018.
So, what will I do with this year?
1) work with an area church and Vicki's elementary school to complete my Doctor of Ministry project, which focuses on increased engagement and investment in neighborhood schools to stem the tide of charterization in middle Tennessee.
2) spend pretty much all of July on an epic family road trip, touring the West.
3) complete a 200-hour yoga teacher training at Kali Yuga Yoga from August through November.
4) take my daughter on her first trip to New York! To see my best friend and her baby and her husband and Brooklyn and see the Thanksgiving Day Parade. This is such a rite of passage for us, introducing her to The City.
5) spend a lot more time with my son and daughter, cat, dog, and chickens.
6) take a German class at Vanderbilt (modern languages . . . ugh).
7) apply for about 15 more Ph.D. programs in Religious Studies/Theology. Including reapplying to Stanford.
8) take my kids to DC in May of 2018 for my graduation at the National Cathedral.
Big questions I've been asked:
1) How can I do this, financially?
I am by no means independently wealthy (have you seen my house/car/life?!), but I have enough saved from inheritance and cheap living that I can afford to do one year this way. We won't be able to live extravagantly, but I can take a year to breathe.
2) Will I return to church ministry?
I have no idea, honestly. I am trying to be as open as I possibly can. I have spent a lot of my life rushing through whichever door opened easily and quickly, because I couldn't stand the ambiguity and discomfort of standing in the hallway. But this is my hallway season. This is the time to stand and observe the doors and see which one cracks open and which one shuts and which one can be the door that is wisest and most accommodating for all three of us. Perhaps I am accepted to the perfect Ph.D. program, and that is the door that opens. Perhaps I am not, and I realize that God is pulling me back to the church. Perhaps God pulls me in some other direction entirely. I have to take the time to see. There is no substitute for time, not even hard work and determination and grit. Not even pushing as hard as I can. I have not done a good job in my life of respecting the role that simple, observant, engaged time plays in any given situation, and now I need to do that.
3) Will I miss City Road?
Um . . . yes! This place has been my home in ministry for the last five years, and they have seen me through some of the most horrific and celebratory times in my life. They have seen my son born, my marriage disintegrate, my heart be broken about seven times. They have seen me grow as a leader and a person. They have accepted my vulnerabilities and flaws. This church is far from perfect, but the people here are as good as any people I have met in my life. They have cared for me in a way that is truly Christ-like: challenging and nurturing and trusting.
This is an exciting season for me. I am somewhat terrified, but I feel ready. Open and ready and accepting.