Ginter Park Presbyterian Church (GPPC) has received a grant of $47,854 to enable pastor Carla Pratt Keyes to participate in the National Clergy Renewal Program funded by the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. GPPC is one of 147 congregations across the country to have received this grant.
Now in its 13th year, the Clergy Renewal Program invites Christian congregations and ministers to plan a period of intentional reflection and renewal. The program gives ministers time to take a break from daily obligations and gain fresh perspectives and renewed energy – the sort that comes from a carefully considered “Sabbath time” of travel, study, rest and prayer. Working with their pastors, congregations apply for grants of up to $50,000. Each application includes a renewal plan designed to fit the pastor’s own needs and aspirations (his/her family is often included in the renewal activities). Up to $15,000 of each grant may be used for the congregation to pay for interim pastoral leadership while the pastor is away, as well as for renewal activities within the church.
“Time and time again we hear that these renewal experiences are transformative for pastors, their families and their congregations,” said N. Clay Robbins, the Lilly Endowment’s president and CEO. “We intend for this program to enable pastors to live for a while at a different pace and in a new environment, in Sabbath time and space.” Many pastors and their families return with a rich store of shared memories, having had large blocks of unbroken time together, uninterrupted by the 24-hour-a-day routine of the ministry. “The wealth of imagination unleashed by this program is truly wonderful to see,” he said. “We can think of no better way to honor these hardworking, faithful men and women than to help them experience personal growth and spiritual renewal in ways that they themselves design and find meaningful.”
In the spring of 2012, GPPC assembled a team of church members to work with Carla on writing and submitting a lengthy grant application. The team included Jessica Cook, Jalana McCasland, Sherry McCormick, Alfred Walker, Nell Wegmann and Anne Westrick. The theme they proposed for GPPC’s planned sabbatical time was “Catch Your Breath: God’s Invitation to Sabbath Rest,” a theme borrowed from Don Postema’s book of the same name.
During the sabbatical Carla hopes to catch her breath in at least five ways: 1) resting prayerfully at home: sitting still, reading, practicing yoga, and piecing together a quilt of fabrics full of memories; 2) making a series of short retreats to Richmond Hill where, in silence and in conversation, Carla will consider ways of sharing God’s love and justice in Richmond; 3) traveling to Congo to share Sabbath and refreshment with PCUSA Mission Co-worker and GPPC member Ruth Brown; 4) spending time with family at home, at the beach, and in New Zealand; and 5) visiting Holistic Life in Baltimore, MD, where folks tutor, mentor and teach yoga to inner-city children, and where Carla wants to experience ways that others breathe deeply alongside neighbors in need.
A three-month sabbatical after six years was part of Carla’s terms of call to GPPC, and this grant allows both Carla and the congregation to breathe easily during the sabbatical period! Employing the same “Catch Your Breath” theme, the congregation will practice Sabbath-keeping and living while Carla is away. They’ll treat the three-month period as a sanctuary in time – a holy space in which to rest, be refreshed, and refocus on God’s presence and God’s purposes. GPPC will continue its weekly worship, led by church members, Seminary students and faculty, and staff members from Richmond Hill. In worship, the congregation will explore themes of Sabbath and the inspiration of God’s Spirit, breathing in comfort and direction, breathing out compassion and truth, and breathing together a common purpose and future. A centering prayer group and a yoga class – both open to the neighborhood – will meet at GPPC through the summer, and church members will have the opportunity to make a retreat to Richmond Hill.
“I’m thrilled that GPPC received this grant,” said Carla when interviewed for this article. “Serving as the pastor of this congregation – in this community and at this time – is an enormous privilege. I hope to return from this sabbatical period refreshed and invigorated for my ministry here. I’m excited about the new opportunities available to the congregation, too. We can’t thank the Endowment enough.” Congregations can learn more about the Clergy Renewal Program at www.LillyEndowment.org.
This article will be in the Presbytery of the James quarterly newsletter in March 2013. We’re excited for Carla and for GPPC as we work towards preparing for this exciting Sabbath time for us all!