By Associate Conference Minister Daniel Ross-Jones
Many people were coming and going, so there was no time to eat. [Jesus] said to the apostles, “Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.” (Mark 6:31 CEB)
Something many people don’t know about me is that I have an active amateur (“ham”) radio license. I got it when I was in middle school, a result of pre-teen father-son bonding with my dad. The examinations included a deep dive into radio theory, operating practices, and – depending on the classification – proficiency sending and receiving Morse code.
My dad, as an engineer, came to this shared interest by a desire to dig into the inner-workings of the radios and electronics. Capacitors and resisters, wavelengths and propagation – this is his language.
I, on the other hand, love the application of communication and understand an interest in ham radio to simply be a vehicle of that communication. My license would have lapsed years ago if renewal required my ability to re-pass the scientific theories on the examinations. (The Morse code requirements have been lifted for everyone, however, so maybe there’s some hope for me yet.)
The past 15 months demanded everyone to respond to limited information with the best decision in that specific moment. And then, many times, to make a totally different decision as newer information is revealed in small bits and pieces. Decisions that were once simple instead required much more risk management and analysis, with less historical precedent to rely upon.
As a ham radio operator, I’m trained in emergency communications first response. One of the reasons ham radio continues to exist as a regulated activity worldwide is because it is essential in disaster response. This public service undergirds other first responders during wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, or any other major disruption where telephone lines, electricity, cellular towers, or other types of radio communication equipment are impaired.
We have, over the 15 months, been reminded of how clergy are spiritual first responders. No matter our ministry role – in local churches, as chaplains, as judicatory ministers, or wherever – we pastors are called to the deeply fulfilling place of soulfully journeying alongside people through life’s highest highs, deepest lows, and all of the joyful confusion in between.
Yet, embedded in being a first responder is the knowledge that you function within a response team. You may be on the front lines now, and you will eventually stand down to let others fill in. You will eventually debrief the event and take a moment of rest.
You cannot constantly be “on.” You cannot avoid debriefing. Both of these are dangerous positions – often life-and-death propositions, either for you or for others who rely on you.
Our Northern California Nevada Conference provides its ministerial staff members a three-month sabbatical following every five years of professional work.
Many of you know that all three of your NCNC ministerial staff members began their work in 2015 and 2016, and so each of us find ourselves taking sabbatical during 2021. It is now my time to do so, and I will be away on this period of rest and renewal beginning this coming Sunday and returning the week of September 20.
I’ll admit, this is not the sabbatical I envisioned for myself. I will not be doing major travel (one of my greatest joys and a mainstay of clergy sabbaticals). I will not be engaging in sustained educational work, such as time in reading and learning at a seminary or university (another common sabbatical activity).
I will instead be taking my time away closer to home, nurturing avocational hobbies and interests, spending time with family, and taking a couple of short intervals for spiritual retreat.
One of our pastoral colleagues in NCNC gave me a word today (I’m writing this on Wednesday) that I’m leaning into during this period of sabbatical: spaciousness.
My whole being is craving this spaciousness in this moment. A spaciousness to pause and breathe, to relax the clenched muscles of my being that have been on constant alert the past 15 months. A spaciousness to be still, to dream and wonder and listen for the still small voice of God beneath the cacophony that daily demands my attention. A spaciousness to enjoy the freedom of having few plans, minimal items on my to-do list, and three months separating me from emails, voicemails, and text messages related to my ministry.
All of us – whether clergy or lay, church or secular professionals, wherever we find ourselves in life at this moment – could likely use a bit more spaciousness. As we pivot from response to recovery (in emergency management lingo), we need to take a break for spaciousness. Not because the work has ended or the need has been fully addressed, but precisely so that we can continue our work and continually address the needs of one another.
When I return in September, I hope that you’ll share with me some of the ways you created that spaciousness for yourself over the summer months.