Strong RE Programs Begin with Strong Leaders
Resources collected by Beth Brownfield
Edited by Andrea Lerner
Published by the Liberal Religious Educators Association
The Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) furthers the interest of liberal religious education by maintaining high professional standards and working toward full professional recognition for religious educators. LREDA provides opportunities for continuing education; helps disseminate program ideas, resources, and leadership training materials; provides assistance and encouragement for all those responsible for Unitarian Universalist religious education programming; serves in an advisory and consultative capacity to the UUA Departments of Religious Education and Ministry; and articulates the philosophy, curriculum, and methodology of liberal religious education. LREDA advocates on behalf of its members for the application of the Guidelines for Professional Religious Educators in congregations. LREDA strives to be a welcoming and anti-racist organization and affirms a wide diversity of people within its membership.
The members of LREDA hold that religious education leadership is a sacred trust. Those engaged in this profession have the honor, privilege, and responsibility of passing on a rich religious heritage to the generations of the present and the future. Whether in a part-time or a full-time position, the work of a religious educator is ministry in the fullest sense of inspiration, care, and service. LREDA members are asked to abide by the Association's bylaws and Code of Professional Practices.
Section seven of LREDA's Guidelines for Professional Religious Educators states:
The religious educator is a member of a profession utilizing an ever-growing body of knowledge and cluster of skills and should be granted an extended period of leave with salary every five to seven years for personal growth, enrichment and renewal (not to include scheduled vacation time). Individual arrangements vary.
The sabbatical period should be determined well in advance so that the educator may plan for the most profitable use of the period granted and so the congregation can adequately provide for the educator's absence. In determining how to use the sabbatical period, the educator should thoroughly explore the variety of educational programs available that would contribute to his/her growth in his/her areas of concern.
This Handbook is designed to provide guidance to liberal religious educators and to the congregations they serve in the design and implementation of sabbatical leave. It is intended to provide guidelines, planning tools, and support throughout the sabbatical process from start to finish.
Thinking of a sabbatical? Your head is probably full of questions. It's an exciting yet intimidating prospect. Where does one begin? What are the steps to follow? What are the possibilities?
WHAT IS A SABBATICAL?
A sabbatical is a period of special leave granted for professional development in a manner not possible during the press of activity in a typical work year. While the request for sabbatical time may be initiated by an individual religious educator, it should be the position, not the individual, for whom the sabbatical is provided. Sabbaticals are not vacations, but pathways to viewing vocations in new ways, through fresh eyes. Many people travel, experience different cultures, learn new skills. The goal of this activity is to return to the congregation renewed, refreshed.
Sabbatical time is normative for UU Ministers. It is increasingly common for Directors of Religious Education to be granted such leave. Many benefits are accrued by both the religious educator and the congregation. Religious educators make an intense commitment of time and energy to their congregations. This work schedule allows for little opportunity for the thoughtful enrichment, analysis, study and evaluation that Sabbatical leave allows. The congregation has an opportunity for growth through the sharing of creative abilities in meeting the programming needs during the sabbatical and also benefits from the renewed enthusiasm of the Director upon his/her return.
The UUA Board Recommendations based on the Compensation Committee Report (April 1995 include:
We believe continuing professional education is an essential for each religious professional in order to maintain and advance professional skills and knowledge. We urge congregations to provide adequate time for professional personnel's continuing education including sabbatical leave, not to be considered as part of vacation.
In the Greater Washington Association of Unitarian Universalists Societies virtually all ministers and religious educators (whether ministers or not) have sabbatical agreements with their churches, in accordance with the guidelines of the Greater Washington Area. This calls for one month of leave, with all pay and benefits, for each year of service to a specific church, and only after five years of service. Other options, such as 3 months every 3 years may be possible. Those eligible included full-time and part-time Religious Educators.
A number of Unitarian Universalist Churches in New Jersey have established a program called Leadership Leaves for the purpose of providing continuing professional development of ministers and religious education professionals and to enhance the religious life of several congregations. It is designed to permit "religious professionals" to pursue such professional development opportunities as will strengthen and enrich their ministries. Participating congregations join for six-year periods. The governing body establishes a schedule for the Leaves program, determines means of financing the plan and is available for recommendations and advice to individual societies. (More information on this program is available on page 13 in the resource section of this handbook.)
LREDA SABBATICAL GUIDELINES
SOME INITIAL CONSIDERATIONS
GAINING CONGREGATIONAL SUPPORT
The question of sabbatical may start with the earliest discussions of covenants and employment agreements. The best provision is for a sabbatical paragraph to be included in the religious educator's agreement before or at the time of hiring. Made at this time, it is a hopeful statement, planning for the educator to remain in their position a long time. Benefits to the R.E. program, the congregation and the religious education professional can be presented at this time and discussed: renewal that follows detachment, reflection and new learning, and renewal that brings fresh enthusiasm, new ideas and a clearer focus.
Clarify how many years of service will be required before a sabbatical will be awarded and a formula for figuring out the length of a sabbatical (i.e., one month per year accrued for every year of full time employment.) Clarify the rate of salary and benefits that will be paid to the religious educator while on sabbatical. Establish guidelines for the creation of a Sabbatical Support Committee.
If a religious educator has been in the position for a number of years without this clause, begin to explore the process with the DRE relations committee, personnel committee, or R.E. committee. Make it clear that the sabbatical is to be awarded to the position and not to the individual.
It is prudent to ask local colleagues first for their support. Enroll the minister in this cause. Consider the possibility of bringing in an outside consultant (the District Executive, Program Consultant, or a religious educator who had a successful sabbatical experience) to create focus groups of diverse congregants to discuss wishes, concerns, opportunities and challenges which a sabbatical might involve. This may clarify the steps necessary to make this a successful venture for all.
PLANNING BY THE CONGREGATION
Once a sabbatical is being seriously considered, it is time to form a Sabbatical Support Committee. This committee should decide how to best support the religious educator's plans. This committee will review the calendar and list all functions which must be covered, document the names and phone numbers of those who will be responsible, and work with Board or Fiscal Committee to determine how to cover additional costs (i.e. additional staff time if needed). Begin to plan for the sabbatical one or even two years ahead.
A sabbatical brochure or resource guide for the congregation might contain information about:
The committee might address the following tasks, among others:
It is a good idea to create a month-by-month "tickler file", calendar, or notebook of what needs to get done and by when. A planning group for each R.E. event during the sabbatical period should be formed with its own with clear instructions, expectations, and other resources (files, descriptions, former publicity, deadlines, procedures, hints, etc.) If the religious educator will be gone until the end of the program year it is important to remember to accomplish what needs to be done in advance for the coming year (recruitment of volunteers, registration of families, program planning, curriculum selection).
PLANNING BY THE RELIGIOUS EDUCATOR
Some initial questions for the religious educator are:
Consider what preparations need to be made (registrations, reservations, etc.) and develop a timeline for completing these preparations. Consider both the opportunities and impact on self, family, friends, job, church, and the community. It is unwise to go on sabbatical in a time of conflict with your congregation. Budget for expenses. Save money for this experience so that you can do things you've always wanted to do.
PLANNING FOR DEPARTURE
It is very important that there be some formal, scheduled and carefully planned congregation-wide farewell. Do not leave this to chance. The Sabbatical Support Committee or a subcommittee should make arrangements for this important event. It is a way of honoring and celebrating the religious educator and sending him/her off on a positive and celebratory note.
Some ideas to consider might include:
It is important that the religious educator and the Sabbatical Support Committee make it clear what boundaries and responsibilities will be honored by the religious educator and congregation during the sabbatical. Many educators stay completely away during the entire sabbatical, coming in only at odd hours to pick up important mail or materials. Some religious educators choose to write one or two newsletter columns as a way of reporting on the status of their sabbatical.
Most advise that phone calls from parishioners be discouraged during the sabbatical period and that the educator avoid attending any church functions during this time. It breaks the flow of the sabbatical. It is too easy to be drawn back into work related issues even on brief visits.
WELCOMING BACK AND ITS PURPOSE
A welcoming reception is as important as a farewell. Much will have happened to the religious educator and to the congregation during the sabbatical period and it is important to reestablish connections. Planning for reentry should be part of the Sabbatical Support Committee's or a subcommittee's responsibility. Activities might include:
PLANNING FOR RETURN
A clear plan must be formed about what is to be accomplished before the return of the religious educator and what is to picked up by religious educator upon return. It is important not to feel overwhelmed by too many tasks for the reentry period. Make sure that there are manageable duties but not major tasks facing the religious educator.
Plan time for the educator to meet with committees to engage in some formal group process with those who have done the work. Evaluate how things and people have changed. Questions to explore include:
In addition to the many positive benefits of the sabbatical, be prepared for possible negative feelings the educator might experience upon return. They might range from jealousy that someone else did a great job during the absence to shock at being back to a tight schedule and difficult timelines. The educator may find that the position no longer satisfies him/her in the same way and things easily accepted before sabbatical are no longer tolerable upon return.
Be prepared for problems that might encountered upon return. The committees might be reluctant to give back aspects of their new responsibilities. There may have been personnel changes in the church. Difficult situations may have developed that will involve special work with youth groups, volunteers, particular parents, etc. The educator may have thought of new ways to do things and find reluctance on the part of the congregation or committee members.
If possible or necessary a recovenanting between the religious educator and the R.E. Committee and/or the congregation might be undertaken.
WHAT DID YOU DO ON SABBATICAL?
The shortest sabbatical reported was 3 months and the average was 5-6 months. Some of our religious educators used their sabbatical time in the following ways:
HOW DID THE SABBATICAL BENEFIT YOU?
Here are some of the personal benefits expressed by religious educators:
HOW DID THE SABBATICAL BENEFIT THE CONGREGATION?
Congregations expressed the benefits accrued to them in different ways:
WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?
RECOMMENDATIONS TO OTHERS PLANNING OR TAKING SABBATICALS
HOW WAS IT FUNDED? HOW MUCH DID IT COST THE CHURCH AND YOU?
HOW WAS YOUR POSITION COVERED?
Leadership Leaves Program of New Jersey (contact Unitarian Church in Summit: 4 Waldron Ave., Summit, New Jersey 07901)
A number of Unitarian Universalist Churches in New Jersey have established a program of Leadership Leaves for the purpose of providing continuing professional development of the Ministers and Religious Education Professionals and to enhance the religious life of several congregations. It is designed to permit "religious professionals" to pursue such professional development opportunities that will strengthen and enrich their ministries...
The assessment formula is one percent of the budgets of each of the member societies with a cap of $2,200. Any excess is kept until the end of the cycle.
Greater Washington Association of Unitarian Universalist Societies
In GWA of UU Societies virtually all ministers and religious educators (whether ministers or not) have sabbatical agreements with their churches, in accordance with the guidelines of the GWA. This calls for one month of leave, with all pay and benefits, for each year of service to a specific church, and only after five years of service (If taken after the sixth or seventh year, the amount of leave is, of course, increased. Other ministers and religious educators provide certain services to the church. The person taking sabbatical leave makes arrangements for such coverage before taking leave. Both parties understand that the person taking leave will return to the church for at least one year following such leave.
Adapted from an article "The Parish and the Minister's Sabbatical"
from Congregations (Alban Institute) January-February 1993
Three Steps to Sabbatical Planning:
Re-entry after the Sabbatical
The parish must "own" the sabbatical. It is not healthy when the sabbatical is thought of as simply something the parish "gives" to the "Religious Educator." The sabbatical is a church program and should therefore, be planned and funded like any other program and should be designed to benefit the parish and to enrich the "Religious Educators" work in that parish.
POLICY FOR LEAVES OF ABSENCE FOR DIRECTOR OF RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
(Adapted from Paint Branch Unitarian Church Adelphi, Maryland)
1. It shall be the policy of the Paint Branch Unitarian Church to grant its Religious Educator a leave of absence for the purpose of formal study; writing, planned social service or other specific activities designed to achieve self-renewal. The benefits of such activities are deemed in the best interest of the congregation and the Religious Educator.
2. The Religious Educator of the Paint Branch Unitarian Church shall become eligible for such leave of absence after a minimum of five years service with the church and after the completion of each additional five years upon the return from said leave of absence.
3. Such leave of absence shall normally be granted for a period of five months immediately before the normal school church schedule.
4. Such leave of absence to be granted by the Board of Trustees contingent on submission of a satisfactory plan and on making satisfactory arrangements for essential coverage of the DRE's duties by the R.E. Committee and the Greater Washington Area R.E. council.
5. During the leave of absence the DRE will be paid his/her usual salary and the church will continue payment of retirement and any insurance plans in effect.
6. It is understood that the Religious Educator will be expected to return following his/her leave of absence and thereafter to serve the congregation of the Paint Branch Unitarian Church for at least one-year.
A Sabbatical Committee for the Director of Religious Education has been formed to investigate and propose a sabbatical for the religious educator to be taken in the 1995/1996 program year. The request for a sabbatical is strongly supported by the Religious Education Committee, and parish minister. It is furthermore recommended by the UUA: Recommendation 14 of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation's Compensation and Benefits Practices (January 1995) reads: A sabbatical plan should be established for all full-time professionals, providing for one month of sabbatical for each year of service.
(Here give brief history of Religious Educator's years and service to the congregation, District, and Association...) followed by a brief rationale for sabbatical, i.e. The scope and complexity of overseeing a Religious Education program leaves little time for study, writing, or time for renewal. This leave of absence would be for the purpose of formal study, writing, completing projects, and other specific activities designed to achieve self-renewal.
A committee has been formed which will work to submit to the Board's satisfaction plans covering details of the proposed sabbatical and essential coverage of the Religious Educator's duties while on sabbatical. The members of this committee are:
Spring 1994 Introduce idea to the Board and discuss tentative plans and timetable
Fall 1994 Formal request to the Board for approval of sabbatical with tentative budget, plans, and dates in 1996
Fall 1995 Present proposal to the R.E. Committee for discussion
Spring 1995 Present final request and submit budget to the Board (it would be well to consider costs a year or more in advance so that money could be set aside ahead of time)
Spring 1995 First newsletter article, giving information about sabbatical plan
Fall 1995 Second newsletter article to include tentative plans for sabbatical
Fall 1995 Information session with board or members of the congregation where the Sabbatical committee and Religious Educator respond to questions and concerns.
December Good-bye function
Jan 1995-June 1996 Sabbatical
Late spring Religious Educator meets with RE committee, parish minister, early fall evaluation volunteers, staff to evaluate how things went/what changed, etc.
Fall 1996 Welcome back function, sharing of sabbatical experience with the congregation
Fall 1996 Continuation and follow-through on findings, implementation of new ideas
Date of sabbatical:
Purpose of Sabbaticals:
2. Change in routine
3. A respite in depth to break away from established routine and weight of responsibilities
4. Be stimulated by new learning
5. Time and space to reflect on the meaning of one's work and commitment
Benefits for the congregation:
Outline of sabbatical projects or goals:
(Have some specific examples of plans but don't lock Religious Educator into unrealistic expectations either of his or her own design or desired by the congregation)
Sabbatical Committee will:
Religious Educator will work with the Sabbatical Committee to ensure that:
Recommendations for Board:
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, MN 1997, Beth Brownfield
If I Stopped by Sean Le Claire
(From Creation Spirituality magazine, date unknown)
If I stopped for a year to read the classics,
what would happen to my life
If I stopped for a year to visit art galleries and museums,
would I ever work again
If I stopped for a year to dance and climb mountains,
would the Boardroom Bell not sound for me
If I stopped to teach,
would I learn who I was in the gleaming eyes of tender youth
If I stopped for a year,
would I feel the seasons change and hear ants talk
If I stopped for a year,
could I learn to breathe and name the sense I have long since forgotten
If I stopped for a year,
could I remember the shock of the birth canal and the bright, white light called life
If I stopped...
At intermission, we leave our missions in our serious seats along with our programs and remember the show is just a show and talk about whatever we want. We walk randomly at intermission without thinking we need permission to do so...Our lives are intermission. When we're not watching someone else's show at home, at work, when we're not acting in our own show, when we're just getting fresh air if we want and sitting still if we want and mingling if we're in the mood, that's life. It's so short though. We spend so much time watching other people's shows and putting on our own that we forget that it's just a show. So this is intermission. Are you doing what you want?... Anne Herbert from issue 16, Women of Power
I'm writing to you on day fifty-six of my sabbatical, which feels like an intermission to me. You might want to ask me questions about my experience: What are you doing with your eyes? Have you done something you'd never done in your life until now and why did you do it and what happened? Who and what do you miss? What brings you joy? What is something you made that you like? What is something that happened that you thought about for a long time after it happened? What do you do between breakfast and going to bed? What was a good time for you? When did someone or something teach you something that made a difference? What did you learn?
I am experiencing beauty: the beauty of solitude, the beauty of shadows on snow, of sunlight in the early morning and late afternoon. I am experiencing clouds and stars. I am looking in puddles to see the reflection of the trees. I am noticing the shapes of the bare trees and I am falling in love with the patterns they make.
I am creating with my hands: sewing, cooking, collage, jewelry. I am rearranging, sorting, and organizing "stuff" I've had around. I am learning new skills: taking up playing the Autoharp, learning Quigong (Chinese exercise like Tai Chi). I am using my body more: exercising daily, experiencing massage, meditative dance, singing, chanting, skiing, walking, and swimming.
I am taking time to be with friends, to entertain and take joy in preparing the food, to clean the house as a meditative practice instead of a chore.
For those who feel the above list is frivolous I have done many things related more directly to my work as a religious educator: attended a conference and professional meetings, read books and articles, wrote reports, made recommendations, answered mail, kept in touch with RE staff and others as I'm called upon, coordinate the District Youth Coming of Age retreats, given interviews, consulted with religious educators, completed projects like RE photo albums and resource notebooks, cleaned the craft closet and visited four UU churches. I've thought a lot about the First Unitarian Society: who we are, what we do, how we do it. I've tried to imagine what it will be like coming back after this time away.
By the time you read this I will be in Java and Bali on an extended trip to immerse myself in Indonesian culture-to see what it would be like to live for awhile with no separation between art and life, nature and life, community and life, religion and life. I'll return in late May to meet with the RE committee. I will continue the sabbatical this summer, attending General Assembly in Indianapolis to give a workshop on the Coming of Age program. In mid-July I will attend the Unitarian Universalist camp on Star Island, off Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for the Religious Education week. I'll return to the east to attend a week-long Leadership School at the UU conference center called "The Mountain" in North Carolina. I'll be back in the RE office in early August.
I'm appreciative of this time. I am learning, growing and creating and will return with bushels of ideas and energy for the work that we will do together in creating a community for all ages.
"What is sabbatical leave? A sabbatical is a period of special leave granted for professional development, in a manner not possible during the press of activity in a typical work year. Planning by the Board of Trustees for the DRE Sabbatical began two years ago.
Why do churches give religious educators sabbatical leave? The present DRE position requires intense commitments of time and energy (50 plus hour weeks are not unusual with work conducted several nights and sometimes seven days a week). This work schedule allows little time for thorough and thoughtful enrichment, analysis, study, and evaluation, which a sabbatical experience will provide to enrich our Religious Education Program." Sue Philley, Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA
"The sabbatical period for the congregation is an opportunity for reflection and growth, just as it is for me. It gives members of Cedar Lane time to explore their own resources and build confidence in their own abilities to provide for the needs of successful programs in our large and vital church. We can come back together in June renewed and invigorated by the growth and identification of possibilities we each have gained." Roberta Nelson, Cedar Lane Unitarian Church, Bethesda, MD
"Sabbath time is intended to be relaxing and unpressured, but Sabbath time is not formless or random. Sabbath implies focus. Indeed, the sense of enchantment and renewal arises from a willingness to allow one's spirit to rest in things which are eternal, under circumstances where there is time and space to do so." Dan Seeger, Pendle Hill
"The Lord said to Moses on Mount Sinai, 'Say to the people of Israel, When you come into the land which I give you, the land shall keep Sabbath to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruits; but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. What grows of itself in your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your undressed vine you shall not gather; it shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and four your hired servant and the sojourner who lives with you; for your cattle also and for the beasts that are in your land all its yield shall be for food.'" Leviticus 25: 1-4
"Rollers on the beach, wind in the pines, the slow flapping of herons across sand dunes, drown out the hectic rhythms of city and suburb, time tables and schedules. One falls under their spell relaxes stretches out prone. One becomes, in fact, like the element on which one lies, flattened by the sea; bare, open, empty as the beach, erased by today's tides of all yesterday's scribblings...One never knows what chance treasures rollers may toss up, on the smooth white sand of the conscious mind; what perfectly rounded stone, what rare shell from the ocean floor...But it must not be sought for...The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beat-waiting for a gift from the sea." Anne Morrow Lindbergh from Gift from the Sea
"We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
shall be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time."
"We are living in a culture and social climate, which places a great and positive emphasis on presence. We feel that being present is a value as such, and almost always better than being absent. Being present constitutes much of our occupation as ministers: present to patients and students, at services, at Bible groups, at all sorts of charitable meetings, at parties, at dinners, at games-and just present in the streets of our town. We need, Nouwen suggests, to balance ministry of presence with a ministry of absence. For example, when we make pastoral visits 'it is essential for patients and parishioners to experience that it is good for them, not only that we come but also that we leave. In this way the memory of our visit can become as important, if not more important, than the visit itself...I am deeply convinced that there is a ministry in which our leaving crates space for God's spirit and in which, by our absence, God can become present in a new way. There is an enormous difference between an absence after a visit and an absence which is the result of not coming at all. Without a coming there can be no leaving, and without a presence absence is only emptiness...'" Henri Nouwen, The Living Reminder
"Unstructured time is...both a boon and burden. In most of us there is something that rebels against punching a time clock, completing assignments, fulfilling obligations. We long to take off our watches, turn on the answering machine, and simply spend the day sauntering. 'What is life, if full of care/we have no time to stand and stare?' the poet asks. The soul prefers a different pace and a different rhythm than the practical intelligence. The two are not, in fact, always on cordial terms...
It is vitally important...to carve out time for 'being' as well as 'doing,' to create intervals where nothing needs to be done and nothing will be done. Life is too sweet to be held hostage by assignment books and 'to do' lists. At the same time, it is childishly naïve to think that empty hours alone will nourish the soul. Even if the latter prefers to dwell in endless summer, it still needs the structures of common sense to rescue it from boredom." Rev. Michael Schuler, First Unitarian Society in Madison, WI
"Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work, your judgement will be surer, since to remain constantly at work you loose power of judgement. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and lack of harmony or proportions is more readily seen." Leonardo da Vinci