Sabbatical Leave Handbook For Professional Religious Educators
And Congregations

Resources collected by Beth Brownfield
Edited by Andrea Lerner
Published by the Liberal Religious Educators Association
July, 2000



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 Best Practices for Employment of Religious Education Professionals 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?


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:
Recommendation 16
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 encourages congregations to grant sabbatical leave to their professional religious educator. We recognize that the ultimate decision regarding this matter is between the congregation and its professional staff.
  • Ideally, provision for sabbatical leave should be part of an initial employment agreement.
  • The professional religious educator should accrue one month sabbatical leave per employed year.
  • Sabbatical time should be exclusive of any vacation or study leave arrangements.
  • Sabbatical time may accrue for a maximum of six months.
  • Sabbatical may be taken separately from or together with vacation periods.
  • Sabbaticals are taken for the purpose of personal and professional development.
  • The employment agreement may require the religious educator and congregation to continue to work together following the sabbatical. This mandated period should not be longer than one year.
  • The religious educator shall receive full salary and fringe benefits during the sabbatical plus any special funds from study grants, gifts, professional expenses, etc.


  • When is the best time for a sabbatical? Should it begin in the beginning, middle or end of the church school year?
  • Are there any considerations about taking a sabbatical at this time? (conflict within the congregation, other staff on sabbatical or in major job transition)
  • What are the benefits for the religious educator and for the congregation?
  • What are the concerns and fears of the religious educator, Board of Trustees, R.E. Committee, minister and other church staff that must be addressed?
  • Are there particular issues the congregation would like the religious educator to think about or work on during the sabbatical? (Take care here. Make sure that the issues and project are mutually agreeable to the religious educator and to the congregation.)
  • What opportunities will the sabbatical create for the congregation and how will it best take advantage of this time?


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.


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:

  • What is a sabbatical?
  • Benefits to the educator and the congregation
  • Structure and role of the Sabbatical Committee (including telephone numbers)
  • Dates of farewell, the sabbatical itself and welcome back festivities
  • Statement from the religious educator on sabbatical plans and goals
  • Responsibility for religious education tasks during the sabbatical

The committee might address the following tasks, among others:

  • Pastoral care
  • Adult education
  • Youth programs
  • Children's special activities
  • Facilities needs
  • Curriculum and program needs
  • Teacher training and support
  • Children's worship
  • Social action projects
  • Special functions (Christmas programs, breakfasts, special fundraisers and others)
  • Administration

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).


Some initial questions for the religious educator are:

  • What do you really want or need most at this point in your career?
  • Are there particular things you want the RE committee to work on during the sabbatical?
  • How will you coordinate your sabbatical needs with the needs and wants of your family?
  • What tangible results do you want to bring back? How will you communicate the results?
  • Are your goals reasonable, considering the length of the sabbatical?
  • How will you facilitate your return with a different perspective to a different situation?

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.


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:

  • A potluck or congregational dessert party with a "roast" or honoring of the religious educator. Make it something that stands out instead of simply making it part of a Sunday coffee hour. It could be combined with a special program to help draw a crowd such as a fundraiser for a special program or with specific entertainment (music, magic show, or other attraction)
  • A gift of some sort - money towards sabbatical expense, books of special significance to the type of sabbatical taken, gift certificates for special pampering (theater tickets, health spa).
  • A sermon or part of a Sunday service where the short presentations (by minister, Board chair, and the Sabbatical Support Committee chair) followed by a sermon or short speech by the religious educator. This will help the congregation understand that the minister and the board support this sabbatical.


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.

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:

  • A welcome back pot luck or dessert party in celebration of the religious educator.
  • A special evening or afternoon event like a musical event where the religious educator is welcomed back. It could include a short skit, songs, small gifts and welcoming words to make the welcome personal.
  • A Sunday morning service soon after the return of the religious educator.
  • A special program (forum, sermon, or talk) might be given by the religious educator on some special aspect of the sabbatical (travel experiences, studies, insights).
  • A feature article in the church newsletter accompanied by a message to the congregation by the religious educator.


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:

  • What felt good about the sabbatical period?
  • List specific ways religious educator, others, or the program benefited, changed, grew during the religious educator's absence
  • List specific ways in which the religious educator or the program might have been better prepared for the religious educator's absence? How could this have been done?
  • What program areas could have gone better? What needed more attention?
  • What happened during this period that the religious educator should know about?

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.



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:

  • I finished some seminary course work; attended other churches, as well as a Tibetan Buddhist dharmadatu; began work on my thesis; did Clinical Pastoral Education unit.
  • Researched paper for Master of Divinity.
  • Took seminary courses, Winter Interim at Meadville/Lombard
  • Attended worship services and visited other Religious Education programs
  • Meditations at Buddhist monastery
  • Traveled to the UU Churches of Khasi Hills, India. Traveled from East Coast to West Coast and visited religious education programs in San Francisco area. While there also visited Grace Cathedral to view their labyrinth. Also pursued professional work with LREDA. Visited Chicago with focus on curriculum, worship, racial diversity and interactive social action. Visited "Way Cool Sunday School", attended Meadville/Lombard Winter Institute for Religious Educators. Visited churches in vicinity of NY City, All Souls Church, White Plains (Shelter Rock), and the NY Office of "Crossroads-An Interfaith Ministry for Racial Justice." Consultations were also scheduled with UUA Religious Education Staff
  • Attended conferences, i.e. Meadville/Lombard Winter Institute
  • Spent three months in Great Britain exploring story of King Arthur and its impact on the British people. Also attended General Assembly of the Free Christian Churches in York, England, and gave a major address and a lecture to divinity students at Oxford University.
  • Spent three weeks traveling through England and Scotland exploring ancestral routes. Also edited some original church school plays and curriculum for publishing.
  • Visited UU churches and interviewed DREs about the programs offered for children and youth (particularly Coming of Age programs). Took computer classes and learned about Internet, Excel for Windows, and Word for Windows. Attended European Unitarian Universalist Spring Retreat held in Belgium. Traveled to England and France to sightsee and visit relatives and friends. Attended Meadville/Lombard Winter Institute. Took a Renaissance module, and attended R.E. Conclave. Received training in facilitating Study Circles on anti-racism. Walked the labyrinth at Arlington, VA and again at Chartres Cathedral in France. I read for pleasure as well as for professional development.


Here are some of the personal benefits expressed by religious educators:

  • My sabbatical was designed to giving me some breathing space in my over-packed schedule of working full-time and finishing seminary. My farewell sermon was on "Breathing". The sabbatical did allow me to take a breather - to finish some work and feel back on top of things.
  • They gave me a wonderful loving "roast" when I left, and welcomed me back with gifts and songs.
  • I found my sabbatical let me set aside the role of religious educator, to which I normally devote the majority of my time and energy, and reorient myself in another way. In doing this I found myself considering how much being a religious educator means to me.
  • So here I am, almost as if I knew "the place for the first time," ready to look ahead, recharged with a fresh supply of energy, and filled with appreciation for those who have kept things going while I was away.
  • I enjoyed the more flexible schedule, and the freedom from all the details that usually come with my work. It gave me the luxury of time to think about the options for continuing education, and the opportunity to present them to the Board of Trustees. It was refreshing and relaxing. It was also a humbling experience - a reminder that nobody is indispensable and the world keeps turning, whether you are there or not! As far as the program is concerned, I think the main benefits are an increased awareness on the part of the R.E. Committee about what I do, and an opportunity for people to take more initiative.
  • A learning for me was beginning the process of rediscovering my own center.
  • So much of R.E. work is repetitive, time consuming and draining that it is hard to get recharged, even with a month's vacation in the summer.


Congregations expressed the benefits accrued to them in different ways:

  • Congregation felt good about doing something good for the religious educator.
  • They discovered they could function with clear roles and expectations for themselves.
  • The RE committee reformed into a council with liaisons in charge of areas of responsibilities.
  • Volunteer involvement and ownership was increased.
  • We tried new things in different ways.
  • We gained an appreciation and understanding of complex workload of religious educator.
  • It gave the RE program a new sense of structure. The way we set people up to cover things while the religious educator was gone worked so well, we used it for a model for the RE Council after the return.
  • It allowed the congregation to express their love and appreciation for the religious educator and to feel like real participants in her work at church and in her becoming a minister.
  • Congregation recharged their own leadership batteries.


  • I would have made it longer, or programmed less in, so I could have included some real meditative spiritual renewal time in retreat, or some set aside place. (5 month sabbatical)
  • I would have made it longer than three months. It takes awhile to get into the swing of a sabbatical, and you're just getting started when it comes to a close.
  • I would have allowed more time for doing nothing or doing things for personal enjoyment rather than always tasks specific to religious education. Remember that part of the purpose of a sabbatical is restoring oneself.
  • I would have started earlier and planned more carefully the process of presenting the idea to the Board of Trustees and the congregation. I would have liked to have more activities less directly related to the nitty-gritty of working more efficiently, but the Board required a detailed plan and expected tangible products.
  • I would have done something more exciting, gone farther afield, tried something I had never done before or that I thought would really challenge me.


  • Be aware that you will most likely feel a separation anxiety, as will people who will be covering the work while you are gone.
  • Developmental Stages of Sabbatical (Abby Crowley)
    1. ANXIETY: Wanting to do something eternal and important, or be somewhere I was not.
    2. GUILT: Oh my goodness, I don't think this is what the people in my congregation are paying me to do. I had better get busy.
    3. THE CANDY STORE: Faced with so many tempting possibilities. Should I do this or that?
    4. PRODUCTIVITY: It was clear I could get a lot done, but something was missing. I need to take time to "be" also.
    5. REFLECTION: Where can we go from here?
  • I never called it "my" sabbatical. I always tried to frame it that it was a sabbatical time for "us." I called it "Sabbatical Spring" because the concept I kept putting out there was that for the good of us all. The congregation and I will periodically renew and refresh.
  • Make sure areas that need coverage are clearly assigned to folks; but don't do the work yourself. Let them be in charge.
  • Start a file of ideas you'd like to do on your sabbatical, books you'd like to read, churches you'd like to visit, travel ideas, etc.
  • Give the RE committee a clear assignment, i.e. work on some area of programming you felt is weak and hasn't been handled well enough in the past.
  • An intern should not be asked to take over for a religious educator. Internships are opportunities for mentoring and that opportunity is gone if professional supervision is not present.
  • Set some specific goals for your sabbatical that you can focus on accomplishing.
  • If you have the time coming to you, use it.
  • Don't rule out doing a sabbatical in town, if that's the only way you can arrange it.
  • Don't let the congregation get away with overloading RE volunteers while you are on sabbatical; if necessary, get help from an RE Program Consultant or District Executive in making a case for paying for extra help while you're gone.
  • If you want some kind of celebratory "good-bye" when you leave and "welcome back" when you return, realize that you may have to ask for it. If you have a Sabbatical Committee or other planning group put the "send off" and "return" recognition as part of their job description.
  • Recommend GETTING AWAY! The 2 months I stayed home I felt guilty about what I should be doing like housework! Being away gives time and space for reflection as well as much needed rest time
  • "Be alert to some craziness on the part of the congregation upon your return," wrote one LREDA Good Offices person who has seen this in her congregations and in other congregations.
  • Take an October though March sabbatical. I got the year off to a good start and was back in time for teacher recruitment.
  • Make sure that a sabbatical plan is included in your letter of agreement, so that it does not look like a favor.
  • Choose a Sabbatical Committee that is aware of the difference between sabbaticals in academic and church settings.
  • If possible, do not commit to very specific activities, so that you don't miss out an opportunities that may arise after you write your proposal.
  • Train the people who are covering for you, and put as much as possible in writing, make check lists for quick reference.
  • Give reports to the Board, the R.E. Committee and the congregation when you return.
  • Meet with the people who covered for you after you return and get them to answer a questionnaire about their experience: what did they accomplish, what did they learn, any problems that they foresee, etc.
  • Show appreciation to those that covered for you with a postcard, small gift, reception in their honor; and certainly recognition at church and in the newsletter for the extra work they have done.
  • Take cautions and don't plan too tightly. Leave room for your "family," rest and renew your spirit, exercise, meditate. Ask yourself: What will renew me? What can I share with the congregation when I return? What issue do I want the church to look at during the sabbatical


  • I continued to receive my salary, but all coverage at the church was volunteer, and all my activities were already paid for so there was no financial factor.
  • $1,800 for Sunday coverage.
  • Religious Educator was paid half of salary. The other half went to pay a temporary DRE.
  • One congregation increased the hourly rate of the RE assistant and added additional hours. They hired a student preparing for the ministry who had a Masters in Education and was an experienced UU. This person took over the MRE responsibilities.
  • One congregation hired a religious educator for 25 hours a week, for 17 weeks, for a maximum of 30 hours. This was for a total of 464 hours at $10.70 an hour. Total budget for the salary was $5,000 and did not include benefits.
  • RE Assistant who was working 10 hours a week had hours increased to 15. The added responsibilities were in supporting Sunday morning for three months the DRE was away.
  • RE Assistant hours were increased from half time to full time. $6,000 was allotted to sabbatical expense. ($4,000 was paid by the annual budget, and $2,000 was covered by the Religious Education program from an R.E. endowment.
  • The church budgeted $2,000, in addition to the regular $1,350 for "DRE reimbursable." I paid for all travel expenses for the trip to Europe and registrations in certain courses that were of a personal rather than job-related nature. Members of the R.E. Committee and a few volunteers took on specific tasks and projects, and rotated to be on duty on Sunday mornings. There was no paid assistance.


  • One congregation set up a "sabbatical circle" - a special group of people who had different areas to steer while religious educator was gone (pastoral care, adult ed., youth programs, children's special activities, facilities needs, and another to coordinate and liaison with R.E. Committee, the minister, and RE Assistant. The RE Committee was asked to plan and recruit for the fall program. The religious educator met with each person individually and as a group before she left. They published a brochure, and also had things in the newsletter to explain to everyone who was covering what.
  • One program had a chair for each RE event during the sabbatical.
  • A 10-hour-a-week assistant's hours were increased to 15. Her main responsibilities were supporting the Sunday morning needs.
  • In another large program the RE assistant went from ten hours to 20 and was paid at a higher rate for the second ten hours.


  • Only once did I get involved (as a parent of a kid in the RE program), commenting to a teacher about needing a form to sign for a field trip. I was sorry I did that. But I was happy I attended the Coming of Age service and party (everything totally run by others, I just appeared) - and another time when I attended a big choral/orchestral concert - again no involvement, just wanted to enjoy being there!
  • Pastoral care boundaries didn't come up - my colleague and a member of the Sabbatical Circle, who is a counselor, handled all things well. I suppose, if someone very close to me had died, I might have engaged... but for the most part, all crises and needs for pastoral attention were met by others, or could wait for my return.
  • I did write a monthly "letter from Linda" for the Newsletter. I didn't check in with the office. I didn't go to the building. I didn't talk to anyone from the church.




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...

  • Participating congregations join for six-year periods. The governing body establishes a schedule for the Leaves program, determine means of financing the plan and available for recommendations and advice to individual societies.
  • The financing is derived from the assessment on the member churches on Nov. 1 of each year.
  • Leaves are described as 1/2 of the society year in addition to the usual vacation period, at full salary.
  • Each recipient society agrees to pay three-quarters of the total disbursement to the religious professional at the time of his or her sabbatical. One-quarter of the disbursement shall be retained by the recipient society.
  • For Religious Education Professionals on leave the congregations are expected to develop a strong Sabbatical Circle of volunteers with clearly identified responsibilities. One church member would be responsible for the overall well-being of the program.

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:

  1. Determine the time parameters.
    1. When? How long?
    2. It is important that the sabbatical period should not include normal vacation time.
    3. Sometimes it must first be determined what you will do with the sabbatical before deciding when
    4. Often a sabbatical plan includes a statement in which both the church and the "religious educator" agree to maintain their relationship for at least one full calendar year after the sabbatical.
  1. Determine the financial arrangements.
    1. Continuation of full salary and benefits during sabbatical
    2. Who will pay? How will they pay?
    3. It is accepted practice to pay the pastor full salary and benefits during the sabbatical
    4. There will also be additional expenses to the program during the sabbatical. The church ought to be setting aside funds for the sabbatical, to pay for these expenses
  2. Make specific sabbatical plans.
    1. Can the work be achieved in the time available?
    2. There should be a goal, objective, and strategy. Determine what one hopes to accomplish during the sabbatical and how it is to be accomplished
    3. It should be clear not only how the sabbatical will benefit the "religious educator", but what benefit can be expected by the parish.

Re-entry after the Sabbatical

  1. Coming back from a sabbatical is a lot more difficult than leaving! While the "Religious Educator" has been gone the parish has not stood still.
  2. Pace is important. The "Religious Educator" on sabbatical has been operating at a different pace.
  3. "It is not possible to board a moving train with a perpendicular leap!" The Religious Educator" must run alongside the train for a bit to catch up with the parish momentum.
  4. Advance planning is just as important for re-entry as it was for lift-off. It is extremely unwise to leave things for the "Religious Educator" to start when he/she gets back. Various group activities may be planned in advance and already begun when the "Religious Educator" returns.
  5. The return from sabbatical should be celebrated with a reception, a dinner, or other occasion for members of the parish to gather and re-meet each other.
  6. It would be great for each committee to keep a journal of things to remember to convey when the "Religious Educator" returns.
  7. It is perfectly understandable human need to feel that one's absence was noticed! There is a temptation for the "Religious Educator" who has been on sabbatical to look for evidence that things did not go as smoothly as they might have if he/she had been there!
  8. The "Religious Educator" should report to the parish (presentation, sermon, and also something in writing that covers in detail what was done, or accomplished. This report should include how the sabbatical has benefited both the "Religious Educator" and the parish.

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.




(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:

  • Foster rest, reflection and renewal

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:

  • A rejuvenated and refreshed Religious Educator
  • Application of experiences/knowledge/resources gained during sabbatical
  • Opportunity for parents and religious education volunteers to take more ownership of the Religious Education program and its direction

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)

  • Study
  • Travel
  • Specific projects
  • Rest and relaxation

Sabbatical Committee will:

  • Develop a plan to cover special events and programs that will be handled by individuals, committees, or volunteers
  • Oversee recruiting of acting Religious Educator (if one is to be hired)
  • Develop a comprehensive plan to cover all duties of the acting Religious Educator including...

Religious Educator will work with the Sabbatical Committee to ensure that:

  • Committees are in place to carry out special events
  • Responsibility for special functions (i.e. intergenerational worship, position on specific committees, etc.) of the Religious Educator are covered during the sabbatical period
  • Curriculum is in place for the sabbatical period and plans for ensuing curriculums planned for
  • Etc.

Recommendations for Board:

  • Approve sabbatical for Religious Educator from ____to ____ at full pay, pension fringe benefits and professional expenses intact.
  • Approve budget of ______to cover cost of interim DRE for ____hrs per week @_____per hour.




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."
(T.S. Elliot)

"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 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