Dear Friends in Christ,

Today is the twenty-sixth day of Eastertide, and as I gaze through my office window, the trees are a stunning green, and the activity of birds and squirrels draws my heart to God. We are slightly more than halfway through the season of resurrection, and in less than a week, I’ll be on sabbatical! While the overall engagement with parish ministry will be missed, I am eager to be away.

May 1st through July 31st is the season of Sankofa Sabbatical, followed by one week of vacation. On August 7th, I’ll return to 1790 LaVista Rd. NE. Sankofa is the semblance of a bird from a Ghanan tribe that simply means “go back and get it.” Bring that which is best forward into the future.

This past November, I shared with you that we are the recipients of a Lilly Clergy Renewal Grant! St. Bart’s is 1 of 229 congregations across the United States blessed with this opportunity. Applicants are asked to ponder, “What will make your heart sing?”

Since 2017, I have carried a strong desire to return to Magdala, in Israel to relax and read at a retreat center near the Sea of Galilee. The ongoing conflict in Gaza meant a change of course and a return to the question, “What will make your heart sing?” Letting go of my Magdala dream did not come swiftly. There was wrestling, waiting, and grief. Then, I finally released that dream, allowing something new to arrive.

“What will make my heart sing?” That’s a two-part answer. First, a Jewish heritage tour to Bulgaria and surrounding countries. Before my twelfth birthday, one of my grandfathers asked what I wanted. I said, “A Star of David,” and I have worn it off and on since then. Several years ago, one of my brothers took an African Y-DNA test isolating the Shepherd side of our family. Surprising results showed a tie to Jewish people who are part of the same haplogroup located in Northeastern Africa or Greece and are Mediterranean in appearance. Although this was not the anticipated result, a family photograph of my great-great-grandfather makes it plausible. For years I have delved into family genealogy, never having enough time to connect the dots and look for sources located in courthouses and other places. A companion to family research is studying first-century Judaism and Christianity and the thread of spirituality, and sacrament that spread throughout the world.

Second, taking my father, a retired Episcopal priest who never had a sabbatical, to Anchorage, Alaska which will be the 50th state he’s set foot in! The last time we traveled together was on a college tour several years ago. Interspersed in the sabbatical season: hot yoga, golf, playing the harmonica, visiting family and friends, reflecting, journaling, and plain old-fashioned rest.

What about St. Bart’s? While I am away there is a similar Sankofa focus on looking back and bringing that which is best forward. Budgeted in the sabbatical grant are funds to support an archivist to review and advise best practices in the preservation of important documents. In recognition that long before 1790 LaVista Rd. NE, Atlanta, Georgia existed others resided on the land, speakers are invited to explain the value of 1) land acknowledgment of the Muscogee people, 2) knowing who used the land during the Civil War, and 3) understanding who our neighbors are today, Orthodox and Reconstructionist Jews.

The grant pays for guest clergy on Sundays and pastoral care if needed. Click here to read about priests coming in May, June, and July.

My first Sunday back, August 11th is designed to be a gentle reentry joining you at all three worship services with Fr. Alex preaching at 8:00 am and 6:00 pm. Shawn Small, executive director of Wonder Voyage joins us for Adult Formation at 9:30 am and as the guest preacher at 10:30 am. I’ll preach and preside over all services the following Sunday.

While I am away, John Carter, senior warden steps into the spotlight of responsibility along with the vestry. Fr. Alex Sherrill will be around, but not as a surrogate rector, for most of the three months. Detailed instructions regarding what to do and who to contact have been given to the vestry and staff.

Take good care of yourself and your loved ones. Take time to pray, rest, relax, and play. Discover what makes your heart sing.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8



Somewhere the sun is shining, God is smiling and everything is alright.
May that somewhere be within you.