Andrew Foster Connors’ Summer Sabbatical

Andrew Foster Connors walking outside Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian.

In case you haven’t already heard, Andrew is on sabbatical this summer. Sunday, May 5 was his last Sunday with us before he began “The New Wineskins Clergy Renewal Sabbatical Program” that he and the Session applied for, and received, from the Lilly Endowment.


The Lilly Endowment “seeks to strengthen Christian congregations by providing opportunities for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. Renewal periods are not vacations, but times for intentional exploration and reflection, for regaining the enthusiasm and creativity for ministry, for discovering what will make the pastor’s heart sing.”


Toward that end, Andrew and the Session have planned a sabbatical program that deals with the heart of some of our contemporary challenges—namely how we organize ourselves as a congregation (our habits, structures and culture) around relationships that lead to community —the “new wineskins” that we need in a post-Christian context to thrive as church.


While Andrew will be pursuing a number of activities that get at this question in fun-filled, renewing ways, the grant exploration is designed to be shared with the congregation. For example, Sunday, June 9, an Ignite Talk on team building will take place. The Ignite Talk series includes short 5-7 minute talks from different speakers to provide many perspectives and insights on the same theme. This Ignite talk will feature members of the congregation sharing their experiences in forming teams, being on teams and leading people to build relationships and fulfill common goals.


Two top-notch preachers will be with us on June 23 and August 4. The Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart from Philadelphia will preach and lead a post-worship workshop on June 23. She will discuss the intersection of community organizing, ministry and advocacy. She is an ordained UCC minister, the Faith Work Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force, and an adjunct Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University. On August 4, The Rev. Dr. Ken Evers-Hood from Tualatin, Oregon, will preach on team building through examples of the Early Church. He is the pastor of Tualatin Presbyterian Church, a keynote speaker at NEXT Church 2019 in Seattle, and is the author of two books on church leadership. Afterward worship he will give a presentation about his book The Irrational Jesus: Leading the Fully Human Church, which the Session will read and use excerpts as devotional material during the sabbatical season.


Members of the Session, the Worship Committee and the Sabbatical Team are preparing an outdoor worship service for Sunday, July 21, at 10 a.m. during Artscape weekend. The Sunday morning experience will be complete with challenge games and events exploring the process of team building.


The summer reading group will read books that, in part, deal with team building. Andrew will read these books alongside the book group as we explore the sabbatical theme together.


For his part, Andrew is going deep into the process by which individuals form teams. In May he will attend a two-week timber frame building course in Washington, Massachusetts, literally building a physical structure alongside strangers. While the combination of a hammer, chisel and the Berkshires makes his heart sing, he’ll observe the process of this team formation with church on his mind.


Later, he will travel, alone, to Taize, France, to observe how strangers committed to social justice—most of them youth—gather from around the world to form Christian community across language, race and clan. From there he will join his family in Norway, where, for three weeks, they will work as a team to accomplish some of the most difficult and spectacular hikes in the world. Back at home, Andrew will interview people from a variety of disciplines—from the theater to the corporate world—to gain their insights on how they shape individuals into teams of people who need each other to fulfill their callings.


While Andrew is away, Michele serves as the acting Head of Staff. Michele’s current responsibilities will remain intact during the sabbatical, including leadership of summer trips with our emerging adults.


The Lilly Endowment enabled Michele to bring the Rev. Gretchen van Utt on board as part-time clergy support. Rev. van Utt will preach a few times, provide some pastoral care, and share her years of wisdom and training with our deacons.


Michele is excited about this sabbatical period as an opportunity for the congregation and for herself. She has organized a team to collaborate in the transition to make sure that we meet the congregational goals the Session envisioned for the sabbatical. This team includes John Walker, Christy Macy, China Boak Terrell and Rebecca Crew.


Andrew will be fully released from pastoral duties during this season of renewal and reflection. On May 19, he will be present as a father on confirmation Sunday and a Sunday when graduating seniors are recognized. He will return on August 25. Andrew and Michele are excited about this sabbatical period and invite you to look for opportunities to participate!