Every other week, Connie Berry reports on the news, events, and people at Martha’s Vineyard’s various places of worship.
When the word “sabbatical” comes up, my mind goes straight to academia, not to Island places of worship. But the Bible does make mention of sabbatical; in Leviticus, it says that even the land needs an opportunity to rest every seven years.
The faith community at the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury has prepared to support its pastor, the Rev. Cathlin Baker, in her sabbatical ever since she first arrived, now more than seven years ago. It’s the congregation’s responsibility to provide for an interim minister while the Rev. Baker is away this year from mid-August to mid-December, when she will travel to Glasgow, Scotland. She is responsible for funding her own pastoral study experience. One out of 31 recipients, the Rev. Baker received a pastoral study grant through the Louisville Institute, which is funded by the Lilly Endowment.
I sat down with the Rev. Baker to talk about what she’ll be working on during her time away. “Part of my grant is about faith journeys, and part of that work is mapping my own faith journey,” she told me. “What could I learn about my own journey that will help with my ministry?”
The Rev. Baker said she grew up in an unchurched household, but always considered herself a spiritual person. She explained that today, the fastest growing group in the polls identifies as “spiritual but not religious,” or SBNR, and that used to be who she was.
The Rev. Baker wrote as part of her grant process, “In 1973, at the age of 5, I sat on the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s lap and received a walking mantra. I was raised spiritual, but not religious. When I was 26, I enrolled in Union Theological Seminary and began to shift my identity from SBNR to Christian.” The title of her research project is “How I Came to Church: Becoming Christian.”
“One of the things that attracts me to church is being with other people, and that they are keepers of such great traditions,” the Rev. Baker said.
Why Scotland? The Rev. Baker said she has clergy colleagues living in Glasgow who work in the poorest of neighborhoods.
“The clergy I know there are part of this,” she said. “They have innovative worship and liturgy, and I wanted to be in this milieu, even though my study concerns the North American church.”
She hopes that by exploring and mapping her own spiritual path, she’ll be better able to minister to her congregation here. She said her own journey isn’t that different from everyone else’s: “Your longing and grief are shared, because everyone’s suffering. Society doesn’t want us to let that out, but you come to church and see a place where you are allowed to be broken and shattered.”
Meanwhile, the deacons at First Congregational have been busy searching for an interim minister, and they recently selected the Rev. Terry Newberry, who served as interim minister while the search for the Rev. Baker was taking place.
While the Rev. Baker works on how she’ll juggle her family life during her sabbatical — she and her husband, Bill Eville, have two young children — the rest of her flock is focusing on what they can do to strengthen their congregation while she is away.
Deacon David Fielder said, “This is a time for the congregation to do its own homework. What do we need to work on while she’s gone?”
He explained that the church’s pastoral-care team has essentially stopped functioning because “everybody wants Cathlin to take care of them.”
“That’s probably her biggest calling, pastoral care,” Deacon Fielder said. The congregation needs to reach out and find ways they can bring new life to their own faith formation, he explained: “Her sabbatical is about what brings people to church and what makes them stay. Instead of just having Sunday worship service, we need to try some other ideas. Maybe a dinner church, church midweek, maybe having church like the ancient church.”
Deacon Fielder said there are three main goals to tackle while the Rev. Baker is away: reforming a care team that’s viable and sustainable after she returns, trying new things, and sustaining small-group faith formation.
“It’s a big challenge, but I think when the pastor goes on sabbatical, we don’t just sit on our hands and wait for her to come back,” he said. “We’re all responsible for each other when she’s gone.”
Preparations are underway for the Children’s Fair at the Chilmark Community Church on Saturday, June 18, from 10 am to noon. Fair organizer Julie Flanders said there will be face painting, beanbag toss, a fishing pool, and a bounce house, along with the very popular cupcake table.
“For the kids, it means the end of school is coming,” Ms. Flanders said. “It’s the kickoff for summer.”
The fair is free, and everyone is welcome.
The following Tuesday, June 21, from 4:30 to 7 pm, is the first of the summer lobster-roll suppers at the Chilmark church. Judy Mayhew said they are always looking for volunteers to help in the kitchen, especially in the middle of summer when it gets busiest. The church serves “jumbo” lobster rolls, she said. The price has gone up to $20 for a lobster roll, drink, and chips. Ms. Mayhew explained the cost of lobster has gone up, but if it does go back down, they will reflect the decrease in their pricing.
Good Shepherd Parish hosts Sister Frances Thomas this Saturday, June 11, from 10:30 am to 2 pm, as she speaks on Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si,” where he calls on all people to care for their common home. Sister Frances will talk about everyone’s connectedness and interdependence with all of creation. Lunch will be provided, and Father Michael Nagle suggests calling the parish office to register so there will be enough to go around: 508-693-0342. The presentation takes place at the parish center in Oak Bluffs.
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