Lessons from sabbatical

Lessons from sabbatical

Michael Grogan

It’s the season of sabbaticals at First Church and I had the opportunity to join a small portion of Reverend Dan Hutchinson’s time out west during his two-month trek of spiritual renewal and study. With Hanna and their two dogs in tow, they left on this adventure that took them from Oklahoma to California and up through the Pacific Northwest. This road trip allowed them to visit people and places important to them. To really kickstart his time on the West Coast, Dan joined Ben Harris and me on a climb up Mount Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 – a goal of ours for quite a while. After our successful and invigorating hike, Dan reunited with his relieved wife to continue the sabbatical. I wanted to know what the rest of their time looked like, so I posed the following questions.

Rev. Dan Hutchinson and Michael Grogan (Author)

Q: You had a nice mixture of time with friends, family, with mentors, and on your own ... how was each aspect of that enriching to your sabbatical?

A: Friends – Particularly meaningful on this trip was talking with friends who are raising families and asking the same sorts of questions I have been thinking about in terms of theology and education.

Family – Family time is always a huge gift to me, especially since I do not live close to them. My parents are some of my best encouragers and continue to be spiritual mentors in my life.

And I love my sisters. I also was blessed to get time with my niece and nephews (I met baby Everett for the first time).

Mentors – Aside from a couple of professors at Whitworth [University] and a friend who is a professor of New Testament at another small university in Spokane, I also got together with a couple of mentors from my time starting out in ministry. It was a huge encouragement to hear their thoughts on my ministry, and to see their churches and hear about what ministry looks like in a different context.

Alone with Hanna – It was so good to get time alone together with Hanna. We had time to talk and pray and begin to wrap our minds around this new little one who will be joining our family in March. I am also continually amazed by her wisdom and understanding. I would come back from a meeting or after a time of reading, share what I had been thinking, and inevitably, her comments would bring fresh insight.

Q: What was the most adventurous part(s) of your sabbatical?

A: Probably the fact that we brought two dogs on a 4,000+ mile road trip. But aside from that, I would say the Mt. Whitney climb was the most adventurous part of the sabbatical. I never really felt like I was in any danger, but I have to admit that I was feeling the altitude and had a few moments of wondering if I would be able to make it to the top, particularly when I woke up in the middle of the night before our ascent with a pounding headache. But God is good and reaching the top was one of those standout memories I will cherish for a lifetime; well worth any momentary discomfort (much like the Christian life).

Q: What area of Scripture or theological study did you dive into?

My primary Scripture reading on sabbatical was the Minor Prophets and the Gospels. It was a beautiful thing to read these together as the Minor Prophets point so directly to Jesus both in terms of the unmet longings of the people of God and the prophetic visions of the Messiah who is to come. It was also refreshing to go back and walk with Jesus through his earthly ministry, to hear his questions, to see him teach his disciples, and ultimately, to be reminded of the cross and resurrection as the foundation of all that we do here at the church.

In terms of theological study, my focus became theological education. Some of the inspiration for this came from my time with Dr. Adam Neder, a professor of Theology at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. He has a book coming out this fall entitled, “Theology as a Way of Life” which he invited me to read and which was the basis of our conversation together. The basic premise, as the title suggests, is that theology is not simply about information or what we know but really is focused on a transformed life.

I also started writing some of my own thoughts on the matter in what I am calling “conversations with a middle schooler,” though I am really writing with parents in mind more than the students themselves. My hope would be that this might become a resource to help parents have meaningful theological conversations with their kids.

Q: Now that you are back in the swing of ministry again, how do you see your Sabbatical enriching it?

A: To be perfectly honest, before sabbatical, I was tired. Tired in that sort of way that a weekend away or a day off doesn’t really fix. And while Sabbatical was physically tiring at points, it was restorative from a mental and emotional standpoint. At some point, I was sitting in church, and realized that I was missing being a pastor. I was missing the work that God has called me to. That was an exciting moment for me. I came back with a renewed energy and passion.

Not everyone can take two months off of work to focus on their own spiritual well-being and development. However, are there components of what you did that we can integrate in our lives?

One of the biggest things I take away from sabbatical is the reminder that we were created as creatures who need to rest. I think for a lot of us, it is a gift we never open. It is a command that we break without thinking about it. And this is not honoring to God. God created us to need Him. Sabbath-keeping is a way of living into our existence as creatures. It is a way of placing our lives in God’s hands.

It is a tangible way of saying, “God, I trust you.”

Another huge gift of Sabbatical was intentional time with people, talking about things that really mattered. I spent four days in the mountains with a friend from college and we talked Romans and holiness. It was awesome. But the meat of the time came because we decided to take time together to talk about things we both truly cared about. This can happen in daily life. We all need this, and we need it more than once a year.

Q: Your next sabbatical won’t happen for a number of years, but have you given any thought to how you’d like to spend your next one?

A: Whatever we do next time, I think both Hanna and I would like to be in one place. It was great to travel and see so many people and we had great conversations, but at times it was exhausting. Though, as I say that, I also think it would be awesome to do some sort of Pilgrimage, maybe follow the footsteps of Paul, or do the El Camino … but whatever it is, I don’t think we will be taking our dogs.