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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Sabbatical & Transition
June 4, 2015

Today is my last day of work before I leave on sabbatical for two months. I have been anticipating this time of renewal ever since it was written into my Terms of Call in 2009. This will be my first time to be away from work for more than two weeks since I began ministry in 1975 – a fact somewhat ironic since my job before coming to Pittsburgh Presbytery was to lead a Lilly Endowment program that provided funded sabbaticals to pastors.

Pastoral sabbaticals have been around for a long time, but only in recent years have they become a regular part of the culture of our denomination. In my work for the Lilly Endowment, I designed and conducted a comprehensive research project to determine the abiding effects of the hundreds of pastoral sabbaticals we had funded – both on the pastors who received them and the communities they served. I discovered overwhelming evidence that a pastoral sabbatical energizes the congregation as much as it does the pastor, and that pastoral sabbaticals strengthen rather than weaken pastors’ ties to their communities. Both pastoral tenure and pastoral effectiveness increase when pastors are granted sabbaticals.

I look forward eagerly to our shared ministry in the future for which this sabbatical will set the stage. I believe with all my heart that the best is yet to come for us. The Spirit stands ready to do with us and through us beyond what we can imagine, as we lean into the future of our God-given mission. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

This was originally scheduled to be a three-month sabbatical, but an unforeseen transition has led me to plan to return after two months. I will take the remaining month later in 2015 or 2016 as my schedule permits. As you are likely aware by now, this “unforeseen transition” is that Doug Portz, our Senior Associate Minister, is leaving our presbytery staff this summer to become the regional representative for the Board of Pensions. He has served our presbytery with distinction, and has been a treasured colleague to me personally. We will feel his absence keenly, but the larger church will benefit much from his ministry in his new role. I know you join me in wishing him God’s great blessing in his new venture.

As Doug leaves, the remaining staff will take up various aspects of his work while we discern who should be called next to join our ministerial staff. We will also be calling on others of you to take on some part of the work he has done. I hope and trust that when you are called upon, you will serve in the gap as you are able.

Article 3 of the Presbytery Manual governs how Associate Ministers are called, from constituting the PNC to voting by the presbytery. Please know that the Executive Committee will do all it can to move this process forward in the good Presbyterian way, “without undue delay, but also without undue haste.” (Book of Order W-2.3008). In God’s good time, we believe the Holy Spirit will reveal who should be called, and how they will fit into our staffing plan. We may well find that staff duties need to be shuffled a bit, as the particular gifts of the new person are discovered. I invite you to join me in confident prayer that God will bring us exactly the right leadership at exactly the right time. Please hold also in your prayers Doug and his future, our remaining ministerial staff, the Executive Committee as it leads us through transition, and the person God is already preparing to join our staff in the future.

During my sabbatical, our office will be ably led by our Associate Ministers: Doug (until he completes his work on July 10), Ayana, and Beverly. They will be writing the weekly letters you ordinarily receive from me through the PNews. You may choose to write or call me while I am away, but I will not be checking email or voicemail until I return on August 2. My marvelous Executive Assistant, Cathy Nelson, will be available to direct appropriately any of your concerns while I am away. You can always reach her at cnelson@pghpresbytery.org, or by phone on her direct line, 412-697-9210.

Tammy and I plan to spend the majority of this sabbatical time in the Canadian Maritime provinces, primarily Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton, and the Halifax region. As good Canadians, we have desired for years to visit those parts of “our home and native land,” so this will fulfill some long-time dreams. We will enjoy golf and bicycling together, and I plan to write new music over the course of the sabbatical.

I am immensely grateful to each and all of you for being treasured colleagues in ministry, wonderful encouragers and supporters, and now donors of a wonderful sabbatical gift. May you be greatly blessed, even as you bless us! “Give, and it will be given to you…. for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38)

Grateful beyond words,



The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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