Amy’s Reflections from Sabbatical

| June 24th, 2024

First on Fifth family,

Whew!!!  I had no idea how FAST six weeks felt until it was time to come back.  And my goodness, what a full and fulfilling six weeks it was.  I first want to say a big ol’ thank you to each of you for your support, encouragement, prayers, advice, and the incredible gift of being able to take a sabbatical.  My job is robust and contains so many layers to our church life, and yet, my heart was full as so many of you stepped in to lead and serve in every one of those roles, and you did it with kindness, patience, grace, faithfulness, and love. I have to admit that I completely broke sabbatical rules and checked my email the first couple of days and tuned in to worship that first Sunday that I was gone (Don’t tell Pastor Emily – ha!).  It was much harder than I realized to totally cut myself off from y’all because I just love our church that much!  But after that, I remembered the advice of Pastor Emily and so many minister friends that it was necessary and important to disconnect.  So I did. Here is a snapshot of some of the things I learned over the past several weeks:

  1.  LOOK UP.  For the first time in a long time, I was not as connected to looking down at a computer screen, my phone, or trying to cram a bunch of reading in.  I feasted on the sound of creation every morning that first week, taking in the sounds of birds, feeling the wind on my face, watching my dogs play in the yard, and being still long enough for butterflies to land on my hand (and y’all know how hard it is for me to be still!)  I felt my shoulders relax and my body feel at rest.  What a gift, indeed.
  1. LIVE WITH PURPOSE AND CONNECT.  My big trip for learning and reconnecting with self and creation was a trip out west.  I am so grateful that Karen was able to come with me as we spent every day connecting with our travel group (35 of us total!) and with the Native American Navajo tribe.  With each encounter with the Navajo tribe, we heard what it means to live every breath you take with purpose and how we are in relationship with our world and with creation.  It’s a belief that is central to who they are.  They are intentional with ceremonies to humble themselves before each other and the earth and take the time to heal, reset, and look for harmony with each other and self.  It’s a time to regain balance and peace.  As we participated in this tradition, they invited people who were struggling to gather around the campfire and we all danced with our full bodies (Karen got to play a drum!).  It was a deeply meaningful experience and reminded me that our worship service at First on Fifth is our avenue in which our community can re-center, find healing, seek out harmony with one another, and use our whole body and mind to surround those who are struggling to keep them connected and held in love.  In our travel group, we had several writers for USA Today, Travel Weekly, Fodders, and executives with Disney.  And yet, none of us talked about our jobs and what we did, we simply enjoyed who we were as people, relying on each other as we rafted down the Colorado River, rode horses through the canyons, encountered Javelinas (google it!) and massive spiders, hugged the kids in our group who were brought to tears when it was time to say goodbye, borrowed each other’s sunscreen, shared food around the table, and celebrated each other’s birthdays (and my sabbatical!)  Live with purpose and connect with yourself, others, and creation.  This was helpful for when I returned and drove to meet my doctorate cohort for class where we met on a farm in Pittsboro.  My mind was clear and my heart open to learning and growing even more with my Campbell classmates and continuing my research.
  1. FAMILY.  I book-ended my sabbatical by spending time in the mountains with my family.  My mind didn’t feel rushed to get back to Winston Salem as it usually does on a weekend and I was able to fully relax with my immediate and extended family.  I met my new baby cousin, I enjoyed a dance party up near Lake Logan with extended family and friends and enjoyed the northern lights on the drive back down the mountain that same night.  I worshiped with my home church, the very place that raised me and first taught me about Jesus and gave me space to lead and be vocal as a young child and teenager.  I was able to visit my 6th grade teacher (who was also a member of my home church) as she is now battling dementia.  She is someone who looked at me in 6th grade and said that I needed to use my voice to speak truth in this world and share the love of Jesus.  As we hugged and sat in the same space together, I was reminded that family comes in all forms and there is power in just being together.  I got to enjoy the gift of play with William and Anna and see the world through their 8-year-old and 5-year-old eyes. (and that meant being called “bruh” non-stop – ha!)  I connected with my half-sister and her family and enjoyed living room conversations filled with laughter and love.  I am grateful for my family.
  1. CHURCH.  Karen and I were able to worship with several other churches and I was able to do mid-week visits with a few more.  With each place, I thought of you, First on Fifth.  Church family is central to who I am and how I want to live life.  We need each other.  We need to work to continue to bring out the best in each other.  We need to support and encourage each other.  And with each faith community we visited, we found that happening and our hearts were full.  And it made us miss you even more!  It was a delight to be welcomed back by a beautiful door-sized poster with fun messages made by our First on Fifth kids and led by Kim Wilkinson and Mary Kaylor, to be greeted with cinnamon rolls freshly baked by Mary, to be able to say thank you to the amazing Gary Knight for renovating my NEW OFFICE (come see me!  I’m in Zack’s old office!), to see the amazing work of Art Yates who repainted my old office, to reconnect with Kyle as a colleague and friend (we are already working hard together), to hear the squeals and receive the hugs from many of you as you came by to say hey, and of course to get a big hug from Pastor Emily (followed quickly by “can you write for the newsletter this week?!”)  It made me feel right at home. I am glad to be back and I am thankful for the gift of my sabbatical and for the gift of our church.  Karen and I love you and can’t wait to continue to root our lives more deeply with you in the years to come.  You are a gift!

With love and gratitude,