Sabbatical: Returning to the Roots of Our Calling – FAQ

Rev. Chris Furr, Covenant’s Senior Minister, is planning a sabbatical during the summer of 2023. Here are some Frequently Asked Questions that might help you understand more about the upcoming sabbatical, his plans, and how those of us at Covenant can be involved.

What is a sabbatical?

Pastors serve a variety of roles in their privileged position at the center of congregational life: preacher, teacher, spiritual guide, pastoral visitor, friend, confidant. The responsibilities are continual, and the pace and demands can be relentless, often leaving even the most dedicated pastors recognizing the need to replenish their own spiritual reservoirs to regain energy and strength for their ministry.  A sabbatical allows the pastor to step away briefly from daily congregational life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection.  In the context of ministry, this time for spiritual renewal and growth generally includes study, spiritual retreat and rest.

What are the benefits of a sabbatical?

A sabbatical offers the pastor a much-needed break to engage in life-giving experiences: strengthening relationships, renewing a sense of call, meeting and serving the neighbor in a new way, finding joy and purpose in a simplified life, traveling to new lands and unfamiliar territories, as well as a chance to joyfully reconnect with his/her ministerial “roots”.

During this time of renewal, there is also an opportunity for members of the congregation to exercise their gifts for ministry.  Profound discoveries that pastors and their congregations describe as “life-changing events” often occur as they participate in this program.

What are the themes and goals for Chris' sabbatical?

The Theme is Entitled: Returning To the Roots of Our CallingChris’ Goals are to help him reconnect with experiences that compelled him to embrace ministry his chosen path and to share them with his family. Those experiences are as follows:

  1. The Civil Right Movement in America
  2. The rise of Social Justice and Spirituality of South Africa
  3. Enduring faith found in the ecumenism of the Church of England
Will Chris be leaving Covenant?

Chris and his family will remain at Covenant. The sabbatical leave is intended to prevent burnout before it happens.  In fact, the terms of the sabbatical require a pastor to stay with his/her home congregation for at least a year after returning.

Will there be communication between Chris and the congregation while he's on sabbatical?

Renewal leaves are intended to provide pastors a chance to step away from the daily demands of parish leadership. Congregations are strongly encouraged to limit contact with their pastors during the renewal leave.

How will the sabbatical be paid for?

When Chris was called to serve at Covenant, we committed to offering him sabbatical leave when he reached seven years’ ministry with our congregation.  We recognized that a sabbatical would come with additional expenses, so we began setting aside a small amount of money each year to help offset the cost.  In fact, the annual operating budget that the congregation has approved for most of his time at Covenant has included this set-aside.  At the end of 2022, we will have $3,600 set aside for this purpose.  The 2023 budget will include his full-year compensation package as usual, supported by giving to the General Fund.

Chris and Covenant are in the process of applying for a grant from the Lilly Endowment to help offset the other costs associated with the sabbatical.  We’re hoping to be able to use this money along with the saved amount to cover the other expenses associated with the sabbatical - for Chris and for the congregation - including travel expenses, an interim senior minister, and other congregational activities.

What is a Lilly Grant?

The Lilly Endowment is a private philanthropic foundation that was founded in 1937.  The Endowment seeks both to honor the high calling of pastors currently serving local congregations and to provide opportunities for them to strengthen the capacities and skills they need for their ministerial work. The Lilly Endowment National Clergy Renewal Program at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) seeks to strengthen Christian congregations by providing opportunities for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. It is a competitive grants program open to Christian congregations that have an ordained pastor.  CTS awards up to 125 grants to congregations and pastors each year.

We’re seeking congregational support to apply for a grant from the Lilly Endowment so that Chris’ sabbatical can be as restorative and enriching as possible, both for him and for Covenant. We anticipate that we’ll know if the grant is approved by early fall 2022, so we’ll have time to develop an alternative plan, if needed, before the sabbatical begins.

Where can I learn more about the Lilly Clergy Renewal Program?

You can learn more about the Lilly Clergy Renewal Program by watching the following video:


Who’s doing the planning for the sabbatical?

At its meeting on February 13, 2022, the General Board approved the creation of a steering committee to assist in the initial planning and proposal-writing for the sabbatical.  As the process unfolds, that group will continue to work with Chris to further refine the plan for the sabbatical and develop strategies for continuing Covenant’s ministry within the community while he’s out.  The members of the steering committee are:  Kathy Lynch (or current moderator), Darla Baldwin (or current treasurer), Doug Lively, and Renie Palmer

What happens at Covenant while Chris is on sabbatical?

Plans for the congregation are also being developed and will be released once they’re completed.  These plans will include coverage for Sunday worship services, visitations, weddings and funerals, and other pastoral responsibilities, as well as opportunities for spiritual renewal and growth.  When a minister takes a sabbatical, it is important for the congregation to engage in a parallel process.  We benefit, as individuals and as a congregation, from the opportunity to reflect on our mission and ministry, to experience different gifts of leadership, and to re-learn the importance of sabbath.

Who do I contact with further questions?

If you have other questions that aren’t answered here, please feel free to contact Chris or any member of the steering committee at