“It’s a dangerous business… going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.” 
   —Bilbo Baggins

It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly a decade since I went on my 2009 ministerial leave. That time away was a tremendous gift to me, a time in which I could be away from my ministerial duties and weekly commitments with time to become a student again, to refresh my spiritual calling, to reflect more deeply, to pray more intensely, to travel and read more widely, to seek out mentors, and to think afresh. 

For the past several years, Carrie and I have been praying about a special opportunity for my upcoming ministerial sabbatical. About a year ago, we learned that Carrie had been accepted as the visiting faculty for Pepperdine University’s program in Florence, Italy. Her appointment is for January through April of 2019. With the blessing of Conejo’s elders, I am planning on taking my ministry leave during this time-frame, joining Carrie and about sixty students for that semester.

My theme for this season of renewal is “Inspiration.” The city of Florence is, of course, the birthplace of the Renaissance, a movement of rebirth in 14th through 16th century Europe that emphasized classical ideas and writings, inspiring numerous artists, sculptors, scientists, authors, politicians, architects, and Christian leaders. Florence is full of churches, museums, parks, palaces, and bridges to visit; among these, there will be inspirational places in which to reflect and observe, read and write, pray and worship.

With Florence as a base of operations, I anticipate many opportunities to travel to inspiring places, both in Italy and abroad. We anticipate day trips to nearby places in Tuscany such as Assisi, Sienna, Lucca, San Gimiagno, and Oretzo, as well weekend visits to Rome, Venice, and Cinque Terre. Farther afield, we anticipate visits to Spain, Greece, Germany, Switzerland, Croatia, and a Pepperdine field trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. I am especially looking forward to taking Carrie (and daughters) to see my childhood home, school, and church in Athens and visiting Heidelberg, Germany together, both for the first time. Such travels will afford some wonderful opportunities to reconnect with my past and to dream about the future. 

We’ll be living in downtown Florence in a villa with about 60 Pepperdine students. My responsibilities to the students will be as house parent, spiritual life mentor, and role model for cultural engagement. We’ll participate in weekly time of house worship for the students and I’ll also provide an occasional guest lecture for Carrie’s speech/communication class. This engagement with students will provide opportunities both to be inspired and to inspire.

Please be in prayer in anticipation of this upcoming time of ministerial sabbatical. Please pray for God to guide my preparations so that I might utilize this gift of time well. Pray for our congregation that we may be energized by the additional opportunities for leadership and service during this season. Pray for all of us as we look ahead and ask, “How can we bring the blessing of Christ to our community and world?”