What would make your heart sing?
That’s not a trick question. It’s the tag line on an application for a Lilly Endowment Inc. grant for pastors to do anything they want to get away from work and renew their spirit.
When the Rev. Roger Rabey, senior pastor at Highland Presbyterian Church, 500 Roseville Road, filled out his application for Lilly’s Clergy Renewal Program, he wrote that he would like to bike Spain’s Camino de Santiago as well as part of the Giro d’Italia — the Tour of Italy — which, for pro riders, is a precursor to the Tour de France. He also wants to follow in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul in Greece and the path trod by the Apostle John in present-day Turkey.
The proposal, Rabey admits, was “outside the box.” But it apparently fit what Lilly evaluators were looking for: He is one of 148 U.S. pastors to receive the $50,000 grant this year.
In its announcement of this year’s recipients, Christopher L. Coble of the Christian Theological Seminary, which administers the program, stated:
“Through these grants we seek to honor pastors for their extraordinary service and enable them to engage in a brief period of rest and renewal. We have learned that such experiences invigorate the leadership of pastors and bring new vitality to their congregations as well.”
While it is akin to a sabbatical, what makes the Lilly grant unique is that it is intended for spiritual renewal, not academic pursuits.
“In fact, if you read deeply into the parameters of the application, you cannot have an educational component in a Lilly grant,” Rabey explained. “This is a form of what I call ‘creative rest.’ ”
Some might scoff at the idea that a pastor needs “creative rest.” But a 2015 Lifeway Research survey of 1,500 pastors found that 84 percent feel they are on call every hour of every day and nearly half said the demands of the job were too much to handle.
Including his time in seminary, Rabey has been pastoring for nearly 40 years, nearly 10 of which have been at Highland. Although he has taken vacations and been on previous sabbaticals, he has been available to his flock 24 hours a day every day.
“Scripture talks about Sabbath rest,” Rabey noted. “Not only was rest needed in creation by God, but rest is throughout the Scriptures in the Old and New Testament.”
So he asked himself, “What could I do after 40 years of ministry that I wouldn’t normally be able to afford?”
And that’s when he added some pieces to his “bucket list.”
In addition to biking in Spain and Italy, (Rabey is a member of both the Lancaster Bicycle Club and Thru-It-All, a bicycle racing team) he also plans to bike the Blue Ridge Parkway and camp along the way with his wife, DeeDee, a Manheim Township teacher.
The couple also will meet with their grown children at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, where he intends to pursue iron and woodworking projects.
Rabey said that while the program is his, it is given to the church.
“It’s for my program, but it is very strongly supporting the church and (its) relationship with the pastor,” he said. “It’s a two-way street. It’s also for the renewal of the congregation. It has to include not just a benefit for the minister.”
Funding for the church
In that vein, the grant stipulates some of the funds stay with the church.
A total of $10,000 will be set aside for eight outside speakers to preach during his absence, including Carol Lytch, president of Lancaster Theological Seminary; Peter Teague, president of Lancaster Bible College; Brian Blount, president of Union Presbyterian Seminary; and Michael Wilson, stated clerk for the Presbytery of Donegal.
The congregation will get to hear those different perspectives.
“That will be part of what the church gets, the variety, the different people,” he said.
Rabey is the second pastor from Highland to receive a Lilly grant in the in the past three years. The Rev. Ann Osborne, associate pastor for congregational care, received a grant two years ago.
“I think it speaks so highly of Highland,” Rabey said.
A committee at the church worked with him to prepare and review the 10-page application.
What does Rabey expect from the the May-through-June break from pastoring?
“A renewed energy, a refreshed spirit, a new zeal to refocus efforts for what we’ve been working on.”
Highland, he noted, is in the fourth year of crafting and implementing a strategic plan to expand its outreach and ministry in ways it has not tried before.
The church is looking at ways to connect with people in different ways.
“In our culture, most mainline churches are trying to reinvent the way we share the message,” he said. “The message of Jesus Christ hasn’t changed, but the methodology and the medium has changed.
“With people having instant access to everything, that’s spilling over into the church. We’re a 24/7 church.”
He expects to have plenty of time to reflect on those issues on those long solo bikes rides and walking the paths once trod by apostles.