Deep Work

It has been almost three weeks since I returned from a three-month sabbatical that I took this past spring and summer. Many of you have asked how it is being back in the office, back in worship, and back to the busy work of the church. It is good to be back. But it was good to be away. I spent the majority of my sabbatical alone in Northern Minnesota where my husband Joshua’s parents retired almost 20 years ago. My days were filled with long walks, long paddles on their lake and creeks, long stretches of reading books or listening to audiobooks, and long days of reacquainting myself with some of my more artistic hobbies that have taken a back seat during the past few years.

One of the best books I read was A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload by Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University. Newport is known for his writing and speaking on “deep work,” which he defines as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Although ministry seems like it should regularly be full of moments of “deep work” – deep conversations, deep study, deep prayer – most days it is the very opposite. Especially in a large and vibrant congregation like ours, there are so many things happening all at once that I often neglect my need to sit and think deeply. I am so grateful that my sabbatical offered many opportunities to do just that.

Since I was able to read and think deeply about some ideas and ways of being church, and honestly just being people in the world, I wanted to share a few things I read in case they are also things you have been needing to think deeply about:

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Freeing Congregational Mission: A Practical Vision for Companionship, Cultural Humility, and Co-Development. This guide for churches was written by my former boss at Presbyterian World Mission, Hunter Farrell, who along with his colleague at the World Mission Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, have created a very helpful and challenging exploration of how we do mission. Mark your calendars for October 30 when they will be with us on that Sunday morning to talk more about this important topic.


How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America. Many of us have been reading all the essential books written these days to help us better understand the legacy of slavery and racism in our nation and community. This new book by Atlantic writer Clint Smith is an incredibly powerful reflection on the physical places and spaces in our country that are trying to reconcile, interpret and educate people about that legacy.

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The Myth of Closure: Ambiguous Loss in a Time of Pandemic and Change. Psychologist Pauline Boss has been developing her theories around ambiguous loss throughout her career, focusing on issues of family stress management and how we move forward in our lives when the ways in which we usually achieve “closure” are not available. In this short book she applies her years of research to the ways we experienced loss these past two years, including her own personal loss when her husband died during the pandemic.
These are just a small sampling of what I was able to dig deeply into while I was away. I look forward to being able to share more with you in the year ahead as we work deeply together on being the church together.