Sabbaticals and Homecomings

In my first two years or so of blog-reading, I stuck mostly to the large group blogs dealing with LDS issues. However, since joining this blog, I have been actively branching out, looking for other voices. That’s how I stumbled on Kathy’s journal, the archives of which moved me to tears more than once this weekend. Blogging with Jana introduced me to her lovely site and to that of her husband, John. John’s most recent post on ordaining his son to the priesthood gave me pause. The paragraphs that struck me most in John’s piece, however, had nothing to do with the ordination. He wrote:

“Yesterday was my second day back to church (my own home church, the local LDS ward) in three months. Now that I think about it, “I went back to church” is kind of an odd thing to say, considering that I’ve been aggressively visiting a variety of churches for the past few months.

Overall, it was a pleasant though emotionally complex experience. It was fast and testimony meeting—open mic Sunday—and every one shared positive personal experiences and witnesses. Not one person used explicitly exclusive language (e.g. “this Church is true” and not, “this is the *only* true Church”), which I appreciated. Ironically, I think that my being generous with people from other traditions for the past few months allowed me to experience the expressions from believers within my own religion more generously.

About two years ago, I took a planned sabbatical from church. Four months to visit other churches, to read, to be with myself, to recuperate from months of running the YW in a struggling branch, to prepare for my wedding, to ask questions and linger with them, to get my groove back. I was looking to fall in love again, to re-encounter the gospel through the lens of the woman I had become over the last eight years. So I took a break. During this period, I attended a local Unitarian church. Why? A google search. I wanted to see what a congregation looked like that had a female minister and the openly welcomed gays and lesbians.

After my first Sunday, I wrote the following to a friend:

While the whole service was interesting, one thing in particular left me hungry-for-more: The voice of this woman before the congregation, leading with eloquence and strength. At times I just closed my eyes and listened to the sound of it. She’s not the token female speaker at General Conference . . . She was bright, funny, articulate, probing, thoughtful. Actually, she seemed like someone we would have been friends with, someone to talk about reiki, family, and politics over tea at the corner cafe.

I am deeply grateful to this minister, who indulged me in several conversations about faith journeys. After several weeks, I began to feel a tinge of longing for miss my Home Church. And I think that’s what I was waiting for – the missing to help me remember what I loved.

  • I missed the company Mormon women.
  • I missed the sacrament.
  • In some ways, I missed the conflict that kept me on my toes, asking questions.
  • I missed open-mike Sunday (testimony meeting), and the not-so occasional testimony that was simple or raw or wondering or earnest.
  • I missed being involved with a congregation that, because it was “home,” could call upon me to help out even when it was inconvenient – because that’s what you do for family.

I understand what John is saying. In the months following my sabbatical I have felt much more . . . patience? generosity? peace? . . . towards the church. I am less likely to mix up my active questions about larger policies with the efforts of good people trying to make it work, right here, right now. (All that said, I’m taking in an Episcopal service next Sunday — ah, the MUSIC!)


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. jana says:

    We’re doing an Episcopal service next Sunday, too. Our first one (well, in the US at least). Any advice? Why is the music so outstanding?

  2. AmyB says:

    I read this post with great interest. Part of what keeps me going right now (actually the only thing) is that these are “my people.” Last week we had a funeral in our branch, and I was struck at how happy I was to see my fellow members at the veiwing. This kind of love and support that we give each other is what it’s really about.

    I’m curious why the planned visits to Episcopal services. Is it because they do Easter way better than the Mormon church? I’ve never been, so I’m just throwing out a guess. I have to say I think the Mormon church could learn something from those churches that celebrate Easter for 40 days instead of only one. Couldn’t we at least give it a week? Recognize Palm Sunday?

    My husband and I are planning to start visiting Buddhist church about once a month. I’m hoping to fill out my spirituality a bit with some more direct contemplative experience. I’ll see what it’s like to be a Buddhist Mormon. Perhaps it will help me get to this point: “I am less likely to mix up my active questions about larger policies with the efforts of good people trying to make it work, right here, right now.”

  3. Deborah says:

    The Episcopal’s have a wonderful liturgical music tradition (think all those English boys choirs). I used to take in the holiday services at the Trinity church in Boston — what a choir! But even the local church in my town has an amazing choir. They take their music seriously.

    I love Episcopal services. It has the ritual and reverence of mass, previously mentioned Great Music, and a welcoming atmosphere . . . (and they ordain women + have some lay clergy so most services have both men & women leading). A great place to take in Easter. Enjoy!

  4. Deborah says:

    Amy: After you visit, guest post us again about the Buddhist temple — I’ve never been to a service and would love to get your take!

  5. John says:

    Deborah, thank you for the kind treatment of my post and for sharing your own sabbatical experience.

    I got the idea of taking a sabbatical from the Church from my friend and hero Jana Riess (not to be confused with my darling Jana), who joined the LDS Church while training for the Presbyterian ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary. Your experience, Deborah, reminded me of hers. I hope you don’t mind if I share a quote from her personal essay on sabbath-keeping that was published in Sunstone:

    I feel closer to God than I have felt in a long time, perhaps since my
    conversion eleven years ago. But one of the major reasons for this sense of renewal, I know, is that I recently took a year-long sabbatical from church activity. From September 2000 to August 2001, I didn’t go to meetings, participate in ward life or
    take the LDS sacrament. I realized that after seven years of church activity, I was burned out, and it was time for a break…When I emerged from my year-long cocoon, it was with a refreshed sense of eagerness and joy…people noticed that when I returned to church, it was with a fresh sense of what I could accomplish as a member and why I wanted to be a Mormon in the first place.

    From yours and Jana’s experiences, it sounds like taking a break can be healthy (of course, there are risks). I doubt we’ll ever hear this encouraged across the pulpit though…

    Deborah, you should keep a blog yourself–I appreciate all your Exponent posts. I would be an avid reader. 🙂

  6. John says:

    AmyB, I’m very interested to hear about your experience as well. My mother is Japanese and a Buddhist, and I incorporate different Buddhist teachings and meditations into my religious practice. I’d love to compare notes with you. What sect of Buddhism is the place of worship that you plan to visit?

    We’re planning to visit an Episcopalian service in conjunction with a pilgrimage to visit and experience the worship services of a variety of denominations (Christian and otherwise) this year.

  7. AmyB says:

    I’ll be attending a Zen Buddhist temple. It has lineage in Soto and Renzai. After I’ve been going for a while I’ll write something up about it.

    I think I’ll have to try out an Episcopal church sometime too. I am also impressed that they ordain women. When the next wave of consciousness hits and it becomes obvious to most people that women have been inappropriately excluded in patriarchal church institutions, those that ordain women like the Episcopal church will be seen as the ones who got it right first. (Buddhists have had this right since the beginning, I believe). They are viewed as radical now, but I think history will show them in a very favorable light- like the first people who fought for civil rights.

  8. Dora says:

    Interesting article on changes brewing among the Episcopalians can be found here …

    Agree that getting a breath of fresh/different air can provide renewed appreciation and vigor. Thanks for this post Deborah.

    And thanks to John, who always gets my mind going on difficult questions.

  9. Kiskilili says:

    Deborah, thanks for the recommendation–I’m in the Boston area and am headed to Trinity Church for Easter services! I’m really attracted to Episcopalianism for a number of reasons.

    I teach undergraduates (discussion sections) about the origins of Judaism and Christianity and their relationships to the Hebrew Bible; it struck me as we studied Passover and Easter that I’ve attended a couple of seders in Jewish homes but, although Christian, have never yet attended a high church Easter service. This must be rectified.

  10. Deborah says:

    Thanks for all the comments — (I love this little blog o’ ours!)

    John: The quote from Jana Reiss does resonate. One day, while praying after a particularly difficult Sunday, the thought came, “You can take a break if you need to.” And I felt flooded with relief. I felt better calling it a sabbatical, a form of “sabbath” — a rest after years of work. I am more centered and content (as a person and as a Mormon) for taking this time.

    Kiskilili: Check out their website for events this week (including the stations tomorrow and an evening Saturday service). My favorite event at Trinity is the annual “Lessons and Carols” the weekend before Christmas — best Christmas concert in Boston (and free!).