The Church of the Atonement (Episcopal) in Tenafly, NJ has received a grant of $36,755 to enable its rector, the Rev. Lynne Bleich Weber, to participate in the 2009 National Clergy Renewal Program funded by the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. It is one of 149 congregations across the country that will support their ministers in the program, which allows pastors to step back from their busy lives and renew their spirits for the benefit of their ongoing ministries.
Now in its 10th year, the program invites Christian congregations and ministers to consider and plan a period of intentional reflection and renewal. It provides a time for ministers to take a break from their daily obligations and gain the fresh perspective and renewed energy that a carefully considered “sabbath time” of travel, study, rest and prayer can provide.
Each congregation is eligible to apply for a grant of up to $50,000. Up to $15,000 of that amount can be used to fulfill pastoral duties during the minister’s absence and for expenses related to the congregation’s own renewal. The 149 grants this year total $6.2 million.
The purpose of Atonement’s program, as described in its Proposal, is to “provide an opportunity for both the rector and congregation to more deeply consider how art, creativity and Celtic traditions can further inform and inspire our Christian identity, worship, spiritual formation for all ages, and commitment to environmental justice.” From May to July 2010 it includes about 7 weeks of travel to Celtic sites, museums and retreat houses in the British Isles, as well as a visit to family members Lynne has never met in Alsace, France. The grant will allow Lynne to travel with her husband Dean – and one week with her mother and nephew in the Alsace. It is followed by 5 weeks for incorporating her findings in paintings developed in her studio at the Rectory, as well as developing a blog on beauty, creativity and ethics. As part of this process, Atonement has formed a “Sabbath Team” chaired by Deacon Joanne O’Neill to suggest and implement ways of incorporating Sabbath time into Sunday mornings and everyday life. The grant covers travel costs for Lynne as well as funds to pay supply clergy and parish events before, during and after the Sabbatical.
This year’s Lilly Endowment group includes congregations in 36 states. Almost two-thirds of them see between 100 and 300 at Sunday worship services. Twelve congregations have more than 1,000 at worship. The group of pastors counts 40 women, four of them members of clergy couples.
The 2009 class of grantees brings to 1,290 the number of congregations that have received clergy renewal grants since 2000. “We have heard wonderful stories from these pastors who already have experienced their sabbaticals,” said Craig Dykstra, Endowment senior vice president for religion. “Their time away has freed them up to pursue personal interests and needs in ways that have given them new energy for ministry – and their congregations have discovered that they didn’t fall apart without their minister around. Indeed, they too experienced refreshment and a new-found sense of their own strengths.”
The Endowment’s larger goal is to bolster the good work that America’s pastors and congregations accomplish day in and day out and to reinforce and build upon important work being done on both sides of the pulpit. “In our religion grant making, we hope to strengthen the efforts of today’s excellent pastors because it is no secret that pastors who have reconnected themselves to the passions that led them to the ministry in the first place are more likely to lead healthy and vibrant congregations,” Dykstra said.
The Church of the Atonement is one of 110 congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, which comprises the northern third of New Jersey with congregations in the counties of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Passaic, Sussex, Warren, and Union. The Rt. Rev. Mark M. Beckwith serves as the tenth Bishop of Newark.