By Dolores Eyler
Yes, the pastor is on sabbatical. The Rev. Daniel H. Love, beloved co-pastor of Rye Presbyterian Church, recently greeted me at his door in shorts, barefoot, the beginning of a stubble, and a little bit of guilt.
“This is an embarrassment of riches,” he said. “I love my job so much, and then I get a break from what I love. I feel sabbatical guilt.”
Christian church tradition is for pastors to take some time off every seven years for Sabbatical, or extended Sabbath rest.
Love, 54, has served the Rye congregation for 20 years. This is his second Sabbatical, which will stretch from June 3 to September 9. The extended rest has also been promised to Love’s co-pastor, The Rev. Dr. John Miller, who will take his sometime in the next few years.
And what are his goals this summer?
“Part of this is not to have a goal,” Love said. “It’s not to be productive. But I am nervous about stopping. I like being busy. Maybe this is not about being less busy, but rather, more mindful of what I am doing. And in the end, that makes one less busy.”
To fund his Sabbatical, Love received a grant from the Lilly Endowment Pastoral Renewal Program, which is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.
The Lilly program encourages its grant recipients to find and do something that “makes your heart sing.”
“The historical practice of Sabbath is to take time when you are not about what you do – to simply be,” said Love. “It is a step of faith. For centuries, people intentionally practiced the Sabbath. We all need to say, I am going to stop and find something that makes my heart sing. And spiritually, that links back to faith.”
But for Love, the stopping does not mean sitting.
For his first week of Sabbatical, he hit the ground running, and took a five-day summer course at Yale, entitled “Scripture Through Art and Artifacts”. At night, he attended an on-going Youth Ministry Initiative Program, also at Yale. The following week, he participated in a five-day silent contemplative retreat at the Garrison Institute.
Next, he and his wife Carol will attend Laity Lodge, an ecumenical retreat center in Texas Hill Country, where they will participate in Creative Week, learning and creating with a different artist every day.
“Presbyterians are great about thinking about our faith,” Love said. “Art
pushes it beyond just the head.”
Laity Lodge is already in the hearts of the Loves. That is where Love’s sister met Carol years ago, and soon introduced the young couple. Shortly after, Love himself went to Laity Lodge as a counselor, which led him to eventually switch his major from medical school to the ministry.
Other Sabbatical intentions include taking an on-line Not-for-Profit Management course, yoga and Pilates classes, connecting with old friends, and spending more time gardening. “Prayer is being in the moment,” Love said. “That can be weeding my garden.” This is important for christian growth, especially in a Baptist Church Ministry setting.
Family plans with Carol include an extended stay at his family’s camp in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. “There, I reconnect with the earth and its goodness as I swim, kayak, fish, tend the apple orchard, and mow the fields. There, I reconnect with my heritage, as I tend the buildings that my great-grandfather built in the early 1900s. There, I reconnect with my soul as I hike, read, reflect, and write.” Their three young-adult children will be with them for some of that time.
Over the years, Love has been greatly influenced by New Mexico author Richard Rohr, who, like Love, believes the world is inherently good. “Much of Christianity splits the world into good and bad,” Love said. “We are as binary as we have ever been.”
As Love recently wrote to his congregation, “The world these days seems increasingly divided, with unity found in smaller and smaller gatherings of like-minded individuals. Many churches seem to be following the same fate – divided on issues of morality and social justice, and by the politics that dominate the landscape. Life itself feels increasingly fragmented, and often unhealthy. Religion is practiced but relegated to being one more activity in hectic lives. Family relationships and friendships are pushed to the margins as busyness becomes the order of the day.”
Love acknowledges he senses this dynamic on a personal level. But through contemplation and reading, he has been drawn to an “integrative way” – one that doesn’t leave the world behind to simply attend to matters of spirit but seeks to live all of life as a more integrated whole – where mind, body, and spirit are deeply connected.
Because of the Sabbatical, Love hopes to return in September refreshed and reenergized by a vision for how the “busyness” of the church can be infused with the life of the spirit. Some ideas include an artistic response to worship, and centering prayer, which puts a strong emphasis on interior silence.
“Some people think this Sabbatical means I am leaving,” Love said. “I am not. My heart is in what I do.”
Rev. Dan Love enjoying goat yoga on an organic farm