Receiving Grace: Sabbatical 2021

2021 Sabbatical
Rev. Tamara Mitchell

Rev. Eugene Peterson said,
“Sabbath is the time set aside to do nothing so that we can receive everything, to set aside our anxious attempts to make ourselves useful, to set aside our tense restlessness, to set aside our media-satiated boredom. Sabbath is the time to receive silence and let it deepen into gratitude, to receive quiet into which forgotten faces and voices unobtrusively make themselves present, to receive the days of the just completed week and absorb the wonder and miracle still reverberating from each one, to receive our Lord’s amazing grace.” 

When I came across this quote from Peterson, I was struck again as to the importance of taking sabbath rest seriously. Which is why it is difficult to put into words my deep, deep gratitude to the congregation of PCJH; for when you called me as one of your pastors, you made a point to include a sabbatical. As a community of faith, you understand the importance of rest and renewal. The time has come for me to take the next several months to intentionally receive what the Lord desires to give. After 34 years of ordained ministry, I humbly thank you.

A few years ago, the session approved my sabbatical to take place in 2020 and set aside funds to do so. However, no one expected that a pandemic would affect so many people and their paths for the future. Not surprisingly, my sabbatical, like everything else, was postponed to this summer. Even as I write this, there are still some plans that are up in the air depending on travel restrictions and openings of venues. Whatever lies before me, I trust it will be perfect according to the Lord’s will.

The primary themes of this sabbatical are Rest, Receive and Renew, and the lines between them will blur. I hope to take the opportunity to thoughtfully reflect on how and what God may be speaking into my life. I wish to express my gratitude to many people who have had a significant impact on my life, whether they know it or not, and to glean from them any wisdom and insight they may have to offer. There are blocks of time created for fun, friendship, and recreation. Like many of you, traveling and seeing special places fills my soul. So the plans include enjoying the outdoors, touring significant places, spending time with family, and reconnecting with dear friends.

I have begun my Doctorate of Ministry studies through Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s a three year program in Reformed Theology. I will take two weeks of intensive classes online starting the first week of June. The reading material is, to say the least, daunting! Yet finishing my doctorate has been a goal of mine since seminary days, and now I see this dream become a reality. God is good. 

As another part of the sabbatical, I am planning to have face-to-face conversations with a number of folks who have significantly  shaped my life and faith journey. Additionally, I will record these conversations, video and audio, and edit a personal documentary summary to be shared with PCJH upon my return. Regarding the technical needs for video and audio recording, I am super excited to have recruited my brother, Tim Mitchell, who is a professional documentary filmmaker, to be present for many of the interviews and accomplish the recordings. He’s graciously taking time off work to travel with me. We have always been very close; but since the recent death of our older brother, Tucker, we have become even tighter and so I’m pumped we get to do this together.

Below are some of these dear people who have shaped my faith, theology and spiritual walk and with whom I hope to record on video.

Rev. Dr. Darrell Guder:  Outside of my parents, perhaps no one has contributed and shaped my life, theology and calling more than Darrell.  Darrell has walked with me since I was a teenager as one of my Young Life leaders. He and his wife Judy have been friends for over four decades.  He was the one who encouraged me to study German, go to seminary, get an MDiv (not MA), participate in the German Theological dialogues, shaped my understanding of missional church and evangelism. Darrell is the leading translator of Karl Barth. He and others were the ones who introduced the church to the term “missional”. Guder received his Ph.D. from the University of Hamburg. As an ordained Presbyterian minister, he served as a student outreach pastor and as a faculty member of the Karlshohe College in the German Lutheran Church. I did a year long internship at this college due to Darrell’s encouragement. Previously, he taught at Princeton Theological Seminary as Henry Winters Luce Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology from 2002-2015 and as Dean of Academic Affairs from 2005-2010. Since his retirement, he and Judy live in Seattle so they could be closer to his kids and grandkids. Darrell now serves as Senior Fellow in Residence at The Centre for Missional Leadership at St. Andrew’s Hall on the campus of The University of British Columbia, Canada. He has authored 9 books and I don’t know how many articles and publications. Judy was a church musician for 25 years and Darrel is also an accomplished musician.  I owe so much to Darrell.

Rev. Dr. N.T. WrightDr. Wright is the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and one of the world’s leading Bible scholars. He formerly served as the Chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews. For twenty years he taught New Testament studies at Cambridge, McGill and Oxford Universities. In 2019, he became a senior research fellow at Wycliffe Hall at the University of Oxford. As being both one of the world’s leading Bible scholars and a popular author, he has been featured on ABC News, Dateline, The Colbert Report, and Fresh Air. While I have never met Dr. Wright, his books have captured my attention and helped me enlarge my understanding of the Kingdom of God and how it is demonstrated in justice, mission, and devotion. I am very honored that he has agreed to meet with me in Oxford.

Rev. Dr. Craig BarnesI had the privilege of working with Craig Barnes when I first was ordained to the ministry back in the mid-80s. He and I served on the same staff together at First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs. Since then, he has served pastorates in Madison, Wisconsin and Washington D.C. He also was a chaired professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary while serving as pastor at Shadyside Presbyterian Church. Craig is the current president of Princeton Theological Seminary, and also serves as professor of pastoral ministry. We’ve kept in touch through the years as friends. I rarely preach a sermon without quoting him. He has taught me more about God’s grace than I could possibly imagine.

Annie Dillard:  I was first introduced to Annie Dillard in seminary when I read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (winner of the Pulitzer Prize), and I know I haven’t been the same. Ms. Dillard’s ability to capture the “rawness of human thought, the passion of the heart, and bring it to a spiritual realm” is amazing. I think I’ve read everything she ever wrote, multiple times. Meeting her would be a real honor. While I’ve reached out to her, I have yet to hear a response. Thank you for your prayers.  

Colleen Evans:  Colleen is a longtime friend of mine, going back decades when she and her husband Louis Evans were speaking and leading conferences after they finished their service at National Presbyterian Church in DC and La Jolla. Colleen became a dear friend and sister/mentor when I served a church in CA. We would meet regularly, and she always had beautiful wisdom and showed such strength and love for Christ. When I grow up, I want to be like Colleen. I just hoped something would rub off.  She currently lives in Naples, FL, where her son-in-law is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Naples.

Drs. Jim Edwards/Terry McGonigal/Jerry Sittser:  These three all serve (or used to service) as biblical scholars and professors of NT at Whitworth University. My history with Jim and Terry dates back to my Young Life days. Jim was the pastor of college students at my home church, professor of religion, and author of several commentaries and books. Jim was the teacher/theologian who led the trip I participated in, to Turkey, in 2010 – a trip of a lifetime. Terry served chaplain of Whitworth, professor of NT, author of several books, Director of Church Engagement. He and his wife Suzette are both longtime friends of my family. They have remained dear friends and colleagues and so supportive of me. Jerry also is a professor at Whitworth. While I do not know him as well as Jim and Terry, we’ve crossed paths various times. His book, A Grace Disguised, is probably the book I recommend the most to people.

Mark Labberton:  I recently got to know Mark last summer when he came for two weeks to speak at PCJH. Mark is the former pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, CA (where I attended with my family as a young girl) and is the current president of my alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary. We had crossed paths before but never really spent time together. I’ve read all of his books and have taught a class on the “Dangerous Act of Worship” – an amazing book with key insights. Check them out in the PCJH library.

Amy Grant It may seem strange to add Amy Grant to this list but she was really influential to me for spiritual growth. Amy Grant is a popular Christian singer/songwriter who lives in Nashville with her husband, Vince Gill. Her songs, faith and life story, as well as her trials of going through a painful divorce, have spoken to me in profound ways. I’ve always wanted to meet her, if nothing else but to say,  “Thank you”. I’m waiting to hear from her as well.

My itinerary will be a combination of working on the doctorate, meeting with the above people, getting extended time with my daughters and family, soaking in this beautiful creation, solo time for reflection and rest, reconnecting with friends here and abroad, and traveling to inspiring places. I hope that on my return, I will be able to serve this beloved church with renewed passion, energy, intelligence, imagination and love. Thank you again for your gracious and prayerful support.

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