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Sabbatical Leave


I. Introduction:

Full-time clergy and lay Professionals in the Diocese of West Missouri are encouraged to plan for, and take sabbatical leaves. A sabbatical is simply a period of time given every seven years during which the clergy/laity becomes a student and worshipper for the purpose of refining and updating professional skills and refreshing spiritual life and vocation. The practice of sabbatical leave began in the university at the time when it was part of the church. The idea was that the Doctors of the church (then university professors), needed one year in every seven to become students again and to refresh their spiritual calling. Developing a serious plan for sabbatical leave is important for the following reasons:

A. The myriad skills required in current parish ministry can become outdated quickly.  Upgrading skills on an ongoing basis becomes very difficult with the work schedule common in parish ministry. Scheduled time away for learning is essential if clergy and lay staff members are to keep their knowledge and skills current.

B. Daily stress accumulates in parish ministry.  Research indicates that between the fifth and seventh year fatigue sets in which affects the work performance and attitudes of the clergy and lay staff members. Scheduled sabbatical time allows for relief of stress and refreshment of vocation.  It is frequently a more productive alternative to moving on to a new congregation or position.  It allows the staff member and the congregation to prolong a productive working relationship, maintaining stability, precluding the expense of a search and allowing the congregation to benefit from the work experience of the staff member.

C. The congregation needs a sabbatical, too!  In about their fifth year of service, clergy and lay staff members tend to become “part of the furniture.” Working relationships have become stale. The changes in style and program that were instituted by the clergy or lay staff member have become routine and the congregation is ready for a change.

II. Sabbatical Planning:

A. A sabbatical leave should be planned with prayerful consideration for study, travel and reflection, with refreshment and enrichment for further ministry as priorities. It may include enrollment in a formal educational program, or in a self-directed plan of study and reflection, or some combination thereof. Normally, such study would be in the areas of theology, ministry, pastoral care, biblical interpretation, homiletics, or spirituality. Other fields such as art, music, history and science might be explored as an enrichment of one’s life and ministry.

B. Sabbatical leave should be included in letters of agreement or contractual agreements with clerical and lay professionals. It should be clearly understood that the sabbatical period should not include or be considered as ordinary vacation time. It is vital to maintain the distinction between sabbatical and vacation time.  The two are not interchangeable.

C. A staff member eligible for sabbatical leave should notify Wardens first, then the congregation’s  Vestry/Bishop’s Committee of the intent to take sabbatical leave at least twelve months in advance of the proposed start date.  The Vestry will appoint an ad hoc sabbatical committee to meet with the clergy or lay person.

D. The ad hoc committee will meet regularly with the staff member to plan the content of the sabbatical, negotiate time away from the congregation, and, if needed, document clearly which months are sabbatical leave and which are vacation time.

1. The sabbatical is to be carefully planned including goals and objectives and what will be accomplished during the leave.  Both the staff member taking leave and the congregation will develop a set of goals and objectives and a plan for what will be accomplished during the leave.

2. The ad hoc committee should report its progress and challenges to the Vestry/Bishop’s Committee frequently, creating a clear channel of communication between the two of them;

3. The committee should report periodically to the congregation about its progress and answer any questions or concerns expressed by members;

4. The plan should include a written agreement that the congregation and staff member will continue to work together for a minimum of one year after the conclusion of the leave.

5. When the sabbatical plan is complete the committee will submit it to the Vestry/Bishop’s Committee for approval; after they approve it it will be submitted to the Bishop.

7. The staff member taking leave shall complete a written report of his/her accomplishments/work/experience  to the Vestry/Bishop’s Committee and Bishop within 45 days of his/her return from sabbatical leave.

III. Financial Considerations:

A. The congregation shall continue the full compensation package for the cleric/lay professional throughout the sabbatical leave.

B. Following diocesan guidelines, the congregation will provide full compensation and travel of supply clergy during the time of sabbatical leave.

C. Congregations are encouraged to include within their annual budgets a line item for a reserve fund to cover the cost of sabbatical expense.  Such funds can be deposited in the diocesan commingled fund until they are needed.

D. Individual clergy and lay professionals should make every effort to seek out financial aid sources to help cover the sabbatical expenses.

F. The Appropriate time for a sabbatical based on total years of service in active ministry shall be negotiated at the time of the acceptance of the call to new ministry.

IV. Time frame of Sabbaticals:

A. The sabbatical leave shall take place in the seventh year of service following six years’ full-time employment.  It shall be of three to six months’ duration.

B. One year agreement: See II.D.4.

C. Evaluation: See II.D.7.

D. The report sent to the Bishop will be kept in the cleric’s/lay person’s diocesan file.

E. Suggested reading for sabbatical planning: Clergy Renewal: The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning by Richard Bullock and Richard Bruesehoff available through Alban Institute

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