The History of Sabbatical and Sabbath

Take a Break


By: Pastor Frank Espegren


We tend to think of sabbatical in academic terms, as a school year free from teaching duties that can be devoted to research, travel and writing. Traditionally, this occurs every seventh year. Because of this scholarly context, we may easily miss what is hiding in plain sight: that sabbatical is related to Sabbath, which refers to the Biblical day of rest, or the seventh day. We trace the origins to the Hebrew word shabbāth, meaning “rest.”


Merriam-Webster has it right; a sabbatical is a break: a break from work, a break from routine a break from the usual. And so I thank the people of St. John’s that after serving 10 years as one of your pastors, you have blessed me and my family (and

all of us hopefully through this gift to me) with a 3 month sabbatical!


Our Employee Manual spelled out that I was entitled to take a sabbatical after 7 years, however, there was work to do these last 3 years. So now, after re-staffing and creating key positions, strategic planning, debt elimination and celebration planning for our Sesquicentennial year, the time is right to take a break!


In anticipation of my sabbatical, I and key congregational leaders applied for and received a Lilly Endowment grant. There should be minimal financial impact on the congregation caused by my sabbatical leave. An Interim Senior Pastor, Pastor Carl Wilfrid, will take my place for the 3 months I am gone. We will introduce him to you more fully soon!


On sabbatical, I will have the chance to visit urban core congregations in the American East and Northwest. I will have the opportunity to ask the pastors and other key leaders of these congregations how they are thriving in the very secularized context of American urban life, which is our context as well. My sabbatical also has periods of rest at Sea Ranch and Holden Village. There is also a big personal and family pilgrimage with Rhonda and my adult children to Scandinavia! We are so excited for the gift of time  that you have made available.


I have every confidence in the staff we have in place to continue to lead our work in mission and ministry. Pastor Carl Wilfrid will join in with a highly functioning team. I leave the day after Easter, April 17, and I return to the office on July 18. I promise to share what I have learned and return with a hop in my step. Being a pastor of St. John’s has been a great gift to me, and I see this sabbatical as so essential for my leadership in the years ahead. So, thank you!  And soon, farewell (and after 3 short months) godspeed to our life together.