On the Way to a Sabbatical

My sabbatical starts in a little more than 6 weeks.


I feel that just preparing for the sabbatical is like a second job. There is so much to do, and much has already been done.

People ask me what I will do on my sabbatical. As Winnie the Pooh said, “It’s a long story, and even longer when I tell it.”

The title I gave to the proposal that led to my receiving a grant is “Calling in Counterpoint: A Musical Exploration of Pastoral Vocation.” What I have in mind with that title is something along these lines:

Identity and calling are complicated for pastors — not only pastors, of course, but surely them. Myself, I wear many hats: husband, father, preacher, teacher, administrator, counselor, musician, academic, child of God, follower of Christ. Even though it can be difficult to live into all those roles, I would not want to give up any of them. They are all, somehow, part of my calling.

It occurred to me that perhaps music can be used to explore and understand calling better. As most of you reading this know, I love music deeply. Maybe my experience and passion for music can help me explore pastoral vocation.

In particular, I think the idea of musical counterpoint may be a useful way of approaching the struggle of understanding and living into the pastoral calling. The great masters of counterpoint take musical lines and weave them together into something greater (think of “Zion hört die Wächter singen” from Bach’s cantata “Wachet Auf”) — playing each off against each other, giving first one then another its time and space, yet always in interaction with the others.

I believe that likewise my life, and the living and working of a pastor, may be better understood and lived as an exercise in spiritual counterpoint, in which my own several “melodies” find their true connection with each other only as they sing in relation to a more fundamental line sung by the Triune God, who makes music in threefold yet one eternal relationship, into which other lesser musicians are invited.

In my sabbatical, I will do a lot with music. I want to listen to music, play music, and compose (or arrange) music. I will also develop my thoughts on calling and counterpoint, identity and music, so that I can write an article on it.

The music starts in a big way at the very beginning of the sabbatical. On April 25, Tammi and I will fly to England. We’ll attend a concert of the BBC orchestra featuring the work of Arvo Pärt. We’ll go to evensong, and attend Westminster Abbey. We’ll go to pubs and hear live music. Maybe we’ll encounter street musicians.

This is a big thing for us, as neither Tammi nor I have been to any other country besides Canada.

There will be more music when I’m stateside. The International Viola Congress is meeting in Rochester at the end of May. I’ll attend that, plus some concerts of the Rochester Philharmonic. In early June I may be going to Washington state for a “Living Liturgy” workshop, one of whose leaders is Marty Haugen, whose music I love. I intend to go to Tanglewood to hear a world premiere of a double concerto by Edgar Meyer featuring him and Joshua Bell as soloists.

Needless to say, I’m so excited I almost can’t stand it.

In between performance events, I’ll be working on my own music: practicing viola, composing pieces. And with all of that as counterpoint, I’ll be working at the article.

Some of this will be at home, some will be at retreat centers and camps and even hotels as I attend other things. One week will be at a lake house of the family of some good friends. And at the end the sabbatical, I hope to offer a casual recital with friends.

And yet, in all this, I hope to rest. I need to rest. What I have described may not sound restful to some. But being able for a time to step aside from the relentless week-after-week of sermon and worship preparation, as well as the meetings and the pastoral visits will certainly feel restful to me. I love these things, but I need to rest from them so I can be renewed for them.

Good music also consists of rests, after all.