In 2019, Saint Luke received a National Clergy Renewal Program grant from the Lilly Foundation to fund a sabbatical for Pastor Matt Staniz. A time of renewal leave was planned and schedule to begin in April 2020, which was made impossible by the covid-19 pandemic. Two years later than anticipated—and after the unforeseen challenges of both the pandemic and a pastoral transition—Pastor Matt is finally preparing to embark on sabbatical leave for three months beginning on May 2, 2022.
What is a clergy sabbatical?
Sabbatical leave provides an opportunity for pastors to step away from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and engage in a period of renewal and reflection. Renewal periods are not vacations but times for intentional exploration and reflection, for drinking again from God’s life-giving waters, for regaining enthusiasm and creativity for ministry. In February 2014, after years of preparation, Saint Luke unanimously approved a sabbatical leave policy after seven consecutive years of parish ministry.
Sabbatical 2022 theme: “We are what God has made us.”
“For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” –Ephesians 2:10
From Pastor Matt: “This passage from Ephesians reminds us who we are and how we are to exist in relation to one another and the world in which God has placed us. Identity is a gift created by God that defines who we are: as individuals, as families, and as a congregation. Identity evolves over time as we experience spiritual growth and new circumstances. During this sabbatical, we—pastor, family, and congregation—will seek a deeper understanding of our evolving identity that clears the way to outwardly live as an authentic reflection of God’s creative work within us.”
From the Sabbatical Planning Team: “Because we have called Pastor Staniz as a spiritual leader, we are committed to his personal and spiritual well-being. We know that a time of rest and renewal is not only needed for him and his family at this moment in their life, but will also deepen and strengthen his identity as a Christian and a pastor. His expression of that renewed identity will serve our desire to be a congregation that provides genuine, enthusiastic welcome to every person. We also affirm the need to faithfully reflect upon Saint Luke’s evolving identity in order to equip people to express their faith in meaningful ways throughout every unique chapter of life.” (The sabbatical planning team formed in 2018 as a collaboration between the Mutual Ministry and Human Resources committees. Saint Luke members that have participated in the team’s work during the past 3+ years include Sparky Lok, Chris Lewis, Lynn McCown, Jennie Boschi, and grant-writing editors Nancy Shaw and Pastor Mary Konopka).
The shape of Pastor Matt’s renewal
Music as Sabbath and Source of Identity
Since childhood, music has been central to Pastor Matt’s self-understanding and faith journey. Hearing and playing music provides him with moments of transcendence that shape his faith and mission as a pastor. His soul yearns for music and he thrives when he makes time to appreciate and create music. This sabbatical will provide time to integrate new habits into daily life, including time for practicing music guided by guitar lessons, seeking inspiration for songwriting, and intentionally listening to music that explores themes of faith’s intersection with daily life. Accompanying Pastor Matt during the sabbatical will be John J. Thompson, an author, pastor, and musician who has served as the Associate Dean of the Trevecca School of Music and Worship Arts. Pastor Staniz will meet with Mr. Thompson virtually at the beginning of sabbatical to chart out a map of music listening, spiritual direction, and related reading to accompany sabbatical travels. Pastor Staniz will visit Mr. Thompson at his home in Nashville, TN for a 7-day retreat centered upon music as a source of spiritual renewal.
Loving “Us”: Marriage Beyond Courtship and Parenting
For Pastor Matt and Monica Staniz, the words “I love you” are often followed with the words “I love us” which remind them that they value each other’s individual identity while also cherishing the shared identity of “us.” Over 25-plus years, their relationship has seen multiple expressions: young sweethearts, newlyweds, young adults establishing careers, and parents. They have shared joys and endured hardships and challenges for which they never could have prepared. As they move into becoming parents of a young adult and Pastor Matt’s new role as lead pastor, this sabbatical includes time and space to reflect upon how their relationship has been expressed, how it has evolved, and the needed boundaries and joyful overlap with an expanding public role as lead pastor. Pastor Matt and Monica will affirm their mutual commitment to pursue future expressions of “us” that foster a symbiotic relationship with parish ministry. The first travel during sabbatical will be Pastor Matt and Monica sharing a cruise visiting ports in the Caribbean, keeping a promise they made to each other during their honeymoon in 1998. During sabbatical and beyond, they will share in devotions around love and communication and participate in a 100-day journaling exercise gathering affirmations to share with each other on their wedding anniversary in August.
Knowing and Loving Our Authentic Selves: Family Travel in Europe
Pastor Matt and his family (Monica and Michael) have charted out a travel itinerary filled with destinations where they can enjoy time together while experiencing places that tap into the passions that bring each of their identities to life. By the end of the trip, they hope to better understand themselves and one another and discover new ways to express their identities with joy and authenticity. They will be travelling for 30 days to Athens, Naples, Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Paris, London & Dublin. Pastor Matt is excited to see the history of Christianity with his own eyes: from the Vatican and great cathedrals to the Areopagus where Paul spoke to the citizens of Athens in Acts 17. He is also excited to connect his passion for music with traditions that have thrived for centuries—and continue to break new ground—in the cultural centers they will visit. Monica thrives on new experiences that she can enjoy and recount to others. She loves to see new places, meet new people, and learn their stories. She loves to create scrapbooks that capture not just images from places we visit, but also the intangible essence of being there. Several destinations were selected by Michael to visit historically significant works of art and architecture. Visual arts are his passion and he has worked to develop notable skill while pursuing the identity of an artist and an educator. This travel is timed to make his identity “come alive” as he completes bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the arts and education.
Bringing it Home
The final 4 weeks of leave are focused on rest, Sabbath, and time with extended family for reconnection after two years of increased isolation. Pastor Staniz will also prepare for a renewed return to Saint Luke, including a follow-up session with Mr. Thompson to craft a renewed rhythm for daily life that employs—and enjoys—the gift of music and other insights gathered during sabbatical.
Renewal activities for Saint Luke
During sabbatical leave, the Congregation Council will continue the visioning work that Pastor Matt has charted out. Conversation with the congregation will be facilitated to review strategic plans developed in 2019 and chart a course forward that also reviews the events of the past three years. Special attention will be given to proposals for future staffing that builds upon the gifts of Pastor Matt as lead pastor and the current staff.
After Pastor Matt returns and a new ministry year is launched, we will celebrate the installation of Pastor Matt as lead pastor on Sunday, September 18 during 9:30am worship. A brunch celebration will follow at 10:45am for the congregation and community.
Celebrating the sabbatical theme, Saint Luke will express our identity as a welcoming congregation by hosting and sponsoring In God’s Image 2022 on Saturday, October 8. This annual event of the SEPA Synod gathers Christians from across the region for learning, equipping, fellowship, and support for congregations committed to being inclusive and safe for LGBTQ+ folks. Volunteers interested in helping host this event can contact the Saint Luke office.
In addition to openly sharing his sabbatical experience through preaching, teaching, and conversations, Pastor Matt will also be inviting his collaborator, John Thompson, to visit Saint Luke as Artist in Residence during the upcoming year including a weekend of music, conversation, and spiritual renewal. Date TBD (early 2023).
Worship, leadership, and care during sabbatical
To ensure that Pastor Matt experiences the full potential of rest and renewal during sabbatical—and to continue the renewal Saint Luke is experiencing after the past 2 years—plans are in being put into place to ensure that worship, leadership, and care are not interrupted while Pastor Matt is on sabbatical. Pastor Matt will not be available to respond during sabbatical to messages sent via phone, email, text or other means. Please contact Allen Benner-Smith for assistance.
Saint Luke’s Pastor in Residence, Pastor Karl Krueger, will continue in the supportive role he has provided since 2020. Pastor Karl will serve as the primary worship leader and pastor during sabbatical leave. The worship team will provide their usual volunteer support on Sunday mornings, invite occasional guest preachers, and plan special worship events to continue the meaningful, diverse, and faith-filled worship experience that Saint Luke is known for. Pastor Angelee Benner-Smith, a recently retired UCC pastor who is married to our parish administrator, Allen Benner-Smith, will provide worship leadership on one Sunday during sabbatical and will also serve as a support to Pastor Karl in responding to pastoral care needs, emergencies, and funerals.
The Saint Luke staff will continue their excellent work—as individuals and as a team—to support the ministry of Saint Luke during sabbatical. Allen Benner-Smith will continue to direct the operation of the Saint Luke office and serve as primary contact for all questions and needs, facilitating connections to the pastors, staff, and ministry teams.
The heart of everything that happens at Saint Luke is the result of the leadership of the Congregation Council and ministry teams. During sabbatical, all ministry teams will continue to faithfully carry out their ministries. Please continue to pray for all of the ministries carried out by faithful volunteers, participate in the life of Saint Luke, and volunteer your time to join the meaningful fellowship and work that our ministry teams carry out. Congregation Council president Dawn Heckert can be contacted at President@SaintLukeDevon.org. Contact Allen Benner-Smith for information about other ministry teams.