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Sabbatical in Review

Thank you to everyone who made the gift of sabbatical time possible for me: the leadership and people of Lutheran Church of the Master, the faithful staff who managed the day to day life of the congregation and Pr. Terry Daly and Pr. Jan Marvar for their pastoral care time. I am deeply grateful to the Center for Theological Study for the gift of an incredibly generous grant which allowed me and my family so many amazing experiences.

My time away centered on three wonderful trips. First my wife Brandy and I traveled to Greece. We stayed in the district called the Plaka, a neighborhood of narrow winding streets around the Acropolis. We were constantly getting lost. Aside from the food and the wine I remember how big the Parthenon is. I thought it would be small, like the tree in your childhood backyard that only seemed big. I was wrong. It is enormous, 50-feet high and one of several temples on the top of the Acropolis. 

From there we flew to the Island of Crete where we stayed in the ancient walled city of Chania (han-ya). Again we wandered narrow streets, explored gorgeous beaches and found restaurants the locals ate at too. After a few days in Chania we took the ferry to Santorini. This tiny island is really the rim of a volcano. Each night you look out across the caldera and watch the sun set. If you have ever seen pictures of white domed buildings and blue domed churches you have seen a picture of Santorini.

Brandy and I were together for 10 days while my parents stayed with our children. It was the longest we have been away since we became parents. And it was wonderful.

As soon as school let out we headed west for a week at Holden Village and time with family. Holden Village began as a copper mine in the remote Railroad Valley in Washington State. It is off the grid with electricity provided by a small hydroelectric facility. To get there you take a boat 20 miles up the fjord-like Lake Chelan, then ride an old school bus up a narrow gravel road nine miles into the wilderness.

When the mine played out in the early 1960’s the Village, comprised of a number of lodge buildings, small homes called chalets, a dining hall and a couple of common buildings were given to the Lutheran Church. Since then Holden has been a place apart. Life slows down. Each evening the entire community gathers for worship. During the summer theologians come and offer courses to paying guests, like me and my family. All the while the Village is run by volunteers. These are people who come to stay anywhere from a week to years. They work in exchange for room and board.

We went to lectures, hiked through the wilderness, rediscovered the power of Holden’s Prayer Around the Cross worship service and so much more. One day Nicholas, Nathan and I went with my friend Ben Stewart and his son Justin on an epic hike. Ben was on the teaching staff for the week and was a classmate in seminary. We left early, hiked west to Cloudy Pass. The last three miles of the hike were all on snow, which made for slow going up and fast sliding on the way down. In all, the day totaled nearly 20 miles.

After a week there we traveled to my parents’ home on the Puget Sound near Tacoma. My father and I share a birthday, June 26, and this year we got to celebrate together.

I was home during July. It was a joy to be able to visit other congregations and worship together as a family. It was also fun to discuss someone else’s sermon for a change!

Throughout this time I worked with Patti Wheeler, producer of the Detroit and Ann Arbor Moth Story Slams. I got to be on stage at The Moth twice and look forward to going back and telling more stories in the months to come. My biggest focus was on showing rather than telling. This makes stories more vivid and powerful. You can learn more about The Moth at themoth.org.

I also used the time to train for my week in Switzerland at the Sufferlandrian National Team Training Camp. This was a truly special week. It was about more than just riding miles, although we rode plenty. I got to ride on a velodrome, or cycling track, for the first time. A 200-meter track with a 45-degree bank on the curve riding a bike with a fixed gear and no brakes. I can’t remember the last time I was so scared on a bike! We got to meet pro-team riders, world champions and were coached and taught daily by Neal Henderson, who himself coaches world record holders. The last day there we did an epic ride up the Col du Sanetsch. We rode 75 miles on the day with over 8,000 feet of climbing. The Sanetsch alone took over 2 hours to climb. 

Each of the trips was unique and came with its own gifts. Time alone with Brandy was a joy. Being together as a family away from the world’s distractions was a gift. Cycling in some of the most beautiful mountains in the world and trying things I never thought I would do was fabulous.

Now that I return I find American coffee consistently disappointing.

I am so thankful for the time away, but also grateful to be welcomed back to this amazing community.

I have a new appreciation for how easy it is to become distant from the church and how important it is to have a specific community you are committed to. We worshipped together at a number of different congregations, but only as a visitor passing through. It was a strange and empty feeling.

Most of the places I worshipped sang more songs than we typically do at LCM. It might be time we sing more.

Each week at one of the worship services at Holden Village they offer what they call Prayer Around the Cross. They have a large wooden cross in the worship space and candles to light. As the assembly quietly sings simple and repetitive songs, people are invited to come forward and light candles as a sign of their prayer. At some stations laying on of hands is offered as well. I can envision this as a worship service we might offer during Lent or even on a regular basis throughout the year.

I return to you refreshed and excited about what the future holds for us together as God’s people in this place. Travel has broadened my horizons and expanded my vision. I have new friends living all over the world. Still, it is good to be home, surrounded by familiar faces, even if the coffee is lacking.