The Rev. Elisabeth Baer, left, pastor of St. Peter's UCC in Evansville, Ind., and parishioners Betty Briel, Judy Allen and Eunice Harper, make a German coffee cake for a church fund raiser. Baer was one of 16 UCC and Disciples pastors selected to take part in the Lilly Endowment program. AP/Wide World Photos.
This November, the Rev. Ronald A. Sparks, pastor of The Community Church UCC in California City, Calif., will be saying goodbye to his staff and congregation.
But Sparks is not retiring or relocating to another church. He's simply taking a much needed hiatus from his pastoral duties. The Lilly Endowment's National Clergy Renewal Program is helping him to take full advantage of his month-long leave.
Depicting this pioneer program as "clergy renewal," the Indiana-based Lilly Endowment has awarded $2.7 million in grants to 118 pastors of those who applied for consideration.
The grant provides funds for travel and personal expenses not covered under a typical sabbatical leave.
Each minister will receive up to $30,000. As much as $10,000 of that could go to the pastor's congregation to help with pastoral assistance during the leave.
Pastors were selected through an invitation by Lilly to congregations, asking members to explain why it was important for their pastor to benefit from the Endowment program.
The goal of the program is to give "strength to congregations by providing an opportunity for pastors to step away briefly from the demands of daily parish life and engage in a period of renewal." The renewal period is not a vacation, but rather used for intentional exploration and reflection.
Another motive for the relaxation sabbaticals is to reduce clergy burnout. Constant figures within the community, pastors are beleaguered with issues as they struggle to keep their congregational families on the right path. From working long hours and weekends to baptizing newborns, pastors have become an integral part of their parishioners' lives.
"I had no idea about this grant," said Sparks. "Someone from my office told me about it after she located it on the Internet. I applied and was chosen. For that, I am very grateful."
Sparks and his wife, Alice, will tour Egypt, combining the study and research of key archeological digs. "My wife Alice is legally blind, seeing only with peripheral vision," adds Sparks. "This trip is especially important to me for her sake."
Sparks, having previously traveled extensively through Egypt, is knowledgeable in the country's history, culture, religion and language and is a skilled, self-taught reader of hieroglyphics. He's already purchased rolls of film so he can share his adventures with his congregation.
"The Endowment cares deeply about the health and vitality of congregations," says Craig Dykstra, Lilly Endowment's vice president for religion. "It is good for pastors to have the time to step back and get re-energized and rejuvenated."
For more information about the next round of grants, write Lilly Endowment at 2801 North Meridian St., P.O. Box 88068, Indianapolis, IN 46208-0068; phone 317-916-7302; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) clergy have received Lilly Endowment grant money for 2001
United Church of Christ
Ronald A. Sparks, Community Church of California City (Calif.) UCC; Luther Holland Jr., Congregational Church of Park Manor UCC, Chicago; David F. Riebeling, St. John UCC, Valmeyer, Ill.; Peter B. Ives, First Churches of Northampton (Mass.) UCC; Peter S. Shober, University Congregational UCC, Missoula, Mont.; Daniel R. Erdman, Iglesia, Congregacional Unida UCC, Albuquerque, N.M.; Todd Hensley-Weir, First Congregational UCC, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; Barbara Kershner Daniel, St. Paul's UCC, Fleetwood, Pa.
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Victor L. Hunter, Evergreen Christian Church, Evergreen, Colo.; Holly C. McKissick, St. Andrew Christian Church, Olathe, Kan.; Robert L. Hill, Community Christian Church, Kansas City, Mo.; Bruce D. Frogge, Hillside Christian Church, Kansas City, Mo.; Janet K. Keeler, Longview Chapel Christian Church, Lee's Summit, Mo.; Rene Rodgers Jensen, First Christian Church, Omaha, Neb.; Robert D. Bowen, First Christian Church, Hiram, Ohio; Paul E. Ganther, First Christian Church, Stephenville, Texas.