Have you missed receiving E-pistles from me during the past 6 weeks?  I have been on Renewal Leave, which is a mandated time away that all of us active bishops are required to take during each quadrennium.  We are required to take a total of 3 months away during that four year period, but I have never found it timely to do 3 months at any one time.  So I normally try to do a few weeks here, and a few weeks there.  This current Renewal Leave technically ends this Sunday with my preaching at Clay City UMC, and from there I am driving to Minneapolis for the fall meeting of our College of Bishops of the North Central Jurisdiction, and then on my way home from there I am preaching at the Chapel service at Garrett Evangelical Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.  I am also preaching at Plymouth 1st UMC on September 25th. Then I will be back in the office for my first time on September 26th, so my auto replies for my e-mails have indicated that date.

What have I been doing on my Renewal Leave?  Resting.  Lots of family events with my grandkids.  Biking (which has helped me lose a little weight). Reading books.  And also writing a new book which Abingdon Press will publish in April of 2012.  The working title is “Lead Follower:  Being a Better Leader Begins with Being a Better Follower of Jesus.”  It is designed as a twelve session study for staffs, classes, or small groups.  I am pleased with how it is coming together.  It includes Responses from several people in our Indiana Conference, so in some ways this book will be a product of our whole Conference and not just my own thoughts.

I also have to confess that I am not very good at taking time away – probably some of that is about my own compulsive nature, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that when a bishop is “away” there are some things which just pile up and are waiting when I return.  I am grateful for the extra work of our Cabinet and the Conference Staff to provide me with this time away, but some items will simply be on my desk when I return.

My Renewal Leave has also been interrupted (by my choice) to be present for certain emergencies – like the funeral for Rev. David Patrick, our third active pastor to die this calendar year.  I am also participating today in the funeral for Minnietta Millard, spouse of recently retired pastor Kent Millard of Indianapolis St. Luke’s, and a friend of both Marsha and me.  Those kinds of “interruptions” are part of life, and in each case I have made the choice to be present for personal reasons as well as to be the presence of “the bishop.” 

So this Renewal Leave has come at a good time for me, in spite of some interruptions, and in spite of my own reluctance to “let go” and to miss lots of meetings and other events. I am glad that our Book of Discipline provides for (and requires) Renewal Leaves for Bishops and for District Superintendents.  In fact we have had three DSes on leave during this same time.  We are also blessed here in Indiana that the Lilly Endowment provides funding for pastors of local congregations to take Renewal Leaves, and many of our pastors have taken advantage of those opportunities.

I am concerned that many other pastors need such times of Renewal Leave, but are not asking for it – or perhaps their congregations are not willing to provide such times away.  Let me say it clearly:  ministry is hard, and all of us who are engaged in ministry (laity and clergy alike) need times away for refreshment, rest, renewal, and reflection.  Jesus himself modeled this rhythm in his own ministry – often the Gospels report that he went away, or up into the hills, to pray, reflect, and rest. 

So, in spite of my own reluctance to take such Renewal Leaves, I do hope that all of our congregations will consider providing ways for their pastors to have such Renewal Leaves.  It does not have to be expensive, your DS and district staff can help you with the names of supply preachers, Lay Speakers, or retired clergy to help “cover” while your pastor is away.  And many key lay leaders understand how important it is to have a pastor who gets those times of reflection, renewal, and rest. 

The truth is quite simple:  we need to take care of those who take care of the people of God.  Renewal Leaves are one important way to do that.