Sean’s Reflections on the End of Gretchen’s Sabbatical

Dear Wonderful Foothills Community,

On Monday, I removed Acting Senior Minister from my email signature line. It was just over 14 weeks ago that Rev. Gretchen, Foothills’ Senior Minister, stepped out into her time of sabbatical. And you will be hearing more from her about her time away in the weeks and months to come, but in this moment of transition, I wanted to share a few reflections. 

Sabbatical is a collective venture and so are its blessings. While it’s easily apparent what time away from ministry might afford for renewal, what might be more hidden are the gifts that sabbatical has brought to our congregation in Gretchen’s absence. 

Sabbatical has reinforced to us that the church has always been and will also be greater than any individual minister, staff member, or lay member. The vision of being a church of humanity unleashing courageous love, could never be and should never be thought to be contained or connected to a single person. Sabbatical didn’t mean church stopped or was put on hold, put in limbo for a quarter of a year. 

Sabbatical invited us to take on new ways of being. Staff members portfolios shifted into new areas. Church members stepped up into critical leadership roles to fill the needs that arose. One prominent example is Foothills member, Karen Harder stepping into a newly created role of Lay Pastoral Care Minister. But it’s the small shifts and moments too. It was the grace that we offered each other when something didn’t get done. It was the hospitality volunteers that stayed for the next service to make sure everything went smoothly. 

Sabbatical flexed our muscles for faith and trust. It was not lost on me that during our sabbatical 60% of our full-time staff were millennials. Each day of the sabbatical I was reminded of the deep trust that being placed in my ministry. It was humbling, terrifying — and because there wasn’t a second that went by that I felt alone or partnerless in our work— it was deeply beautiful. Which isn’t to say there were not many challenging moments — there were many. I imagine it will take me some time to process the experience, as of right now I am mostly filled with a deep thankfulness for everyone in our community. 

As was our plan, for the past few weeks Gretchen and I have been meeting in advance of her return and over the next three weeks she will be stepping back into her role.

Gretchen’s first Sunday back in worship will be our All Church Water Communion Celebration at the Northside Rec Center on August 25th. 

Our Sabbatical Team has been collecting your experiences about this sabbatical time in order to help us learn about the experience, because this may have been the first sabbatical in a long time but it won’t be the last. If you have thoughts please sent them to

Fourteen weeks is a long short time and I am so grateful to be welcoming Gretchen back this week. I’ve missed her, and I know the staff as well. And because many of you have asked, once Gretchen is fully back in her role in Sept/Oct I will be taking some time away for vacation and study leave. 

In faith and partnership,

Rev. Sean Neil-Barron
Associate Minister

One thought on “Sean’s Reflections on the End of Gretchen’s Sabbatical

  1. As a loving member of FUU, it will be great to have Gretchen back with us. But Sean know that you have been ever equally amazing. You stepped in to the lead role with never a hiccup and carried the torch with Kristen every Sunday. I am sure it helped Gretchen to really focus on her much needed Sabbatical knowing that you along with Kristen had it well under control. Now Sean you will be able to have much earned vacation and know it is all good.

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