Beginning July 1, I will take my annual vacation and study leave during the months of July and August. As is the case with almost every other person on the planet, most of my plans for the summer have been upended by the pandemic, beginning with the cancellation of General Assembly in Providence, Rhode Island, and its transition to virtual meetings (as we have done here at MLUC).
Each summer, I spend a few days in DC for our annual meeting of Americans United for Separation of Church & State, of which I serve as board chair. This year, we had planned a National Advocacy Summit, with speakers, presenters, and participants from around the country, to learn how to be better advocates for church-state separation and freedom of conscience. But this gathering has been cancelled.
Each summer, I spend a week at the Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York. Chautauqua is a small village that resembles a college campus, and going to Chautauqua is like going back to college, only without the football games and frat parties. The Chautauqua Institute promotes lifelong learning with lectures by writers, teachers, ministers, politicians, scientists, and celebrities, performances of plays and concerts, and recreational activities. Last year, I served as the UU Minister of the Week, which included my leading a Sunday service and discussion groups with UUs from around the country, and I was hoping to do so again this summer. But Chautauqua has been cancelled, as well.
So what will I be doing instead? Reading, and lots of it. During the church year, almost all of my reading revolves around sermon preparation, but I have been compiling a reading list during the year, and my study leave is my opportunity to dive into this list. I will be reading for fun, which for me means reading books about Buddhism, personal growth, and spirituality. So while I will be reading for “fun,” my reading will undoubtedly generate sermon topics.
Along with other members of our church and staff, I will soon complete an online course on “video ministry,” which is teaching us video skills and strategies to promote engagement in congregational life online—a necessity for any church that hopes to remain relevant and vibrant during this pandemic. I will also take an online course on how to teach and conduct “civil conversations” between people on opposite sides of the political spectrum. This course is sponsored by Better Angels, a national network of chapters of “blue” and “red” citizens who are tired of our political polarization and want to find common ground. And I will attend an online workshop on how to help people cope with loneliness, anxiety, and depression—another timely topic due to the pandemic.
The only traveling I will be able to do this summer—hopefully—will be back home to the Carolinas to visit family and friends, and I anticipate that we will be visiting outdoors, keeping proper “social distance,” and wearing masks. Such are the conditions of our times, right?
So beware. Come Labor Day, there will be a recharged and reinvigorated minister in your midst, ready to hit the ground running.