MG+ on the Road — Sabbatical Notes from the Rector

Here are updates on my sabbatical travels and writing projects.

The Fourth Week

19 October — Writing!writing

I do a lot of writing for a pastor of a congregation. Where most clergy write for a monthly newsletter, ours comes out something like 24 times a year, almost always with a column by me under the heading “Totidem Verbi,” Latin for “in so many words.” In a standard issue of The Trumpet, the column runs to about 650 words. Typically, it takes somewhere between three and four hours to write one, depending on how much research I am doing while I write. I often wish for the services of a good editor, and wonder how much better they might be if I had some professional help in that regard. At any rate, I have learned how to sit down every other Monday and write — whether I have been particularly inspired or not.

I am trying to bring that same discipline to the first draft of my book project, especially during the weeks I am not traveling. The format I have chosen to use isn’t based on traditional chapters, but rather on bits of 600 to 1000 words each. I am trying to write at least most of one each day. That may not seem like much output, but I find myself writing and rewriting these “bits” over and over. I ask a bunch of questions each time: Is this going to ring true for people in other churches? Is my observation or advice helpful? Is there something in Scripture that justifies what I am trying to say? Is this really about the church or is it about me personally? Sometimes a bit gets rewritten after each question!

Here’s an example: your-building-and-your-values

The Third Week


Laura Plantation

Thursday, 13 October — I did indeed visit both plantations on Wednesday, and if I hadn’t been so well prepared (thanks to a conversation with The Rev’d Canon Angela Shepherd) it could have been a shocking experience. Laura Plantation is lovely and the history of the family that ran it is fascinating. The tour includes a stop in an original slave cabin, where the guide suggested that a single family or two might have lived, and how after emancipation many former slaves chose to stay on and live in them.

Whitney Plantation

Whitney Plantation

The picture of slavery offered at the Whitney Plantation — once one of America’s richest holdings — was entirely different. In identical cabins, the guide there explained, as many as a dozen people were housed, having to share a single bed or sleep on the floor. I will have pictures posted here soon. Suffice it to say that if you had only a passing notion of what the life of a slave was like, a tour through Whitney Plantation could be life changing.

Both plantation tours include stops at original slave cabins. At Laura, the guide talked about the fact that, after the Civil War was over, several freed slaves returned to their cabins and continued to work the sugar cane fields, this time for a salary. He barely hinted at the fact that the economy was so poor at that point they had no choice, and often were so often in debt that they could never leave to find better opportunities.

Duplex Slave Cabin

Duplex Slave Cabin

At Whitney, identical cabins held, not just a family or two, but as many as a dozen men and women in each half of the duplex shacks, each half  about half the size of a standard hotel room, and each with just a single bed. Slaves newer to the plantation or with less important jobs slept on the floor.



Monday, 10 October — “Ask, and ye shall receive,” Jesus says.

My third week of sabbatical began with a little recreation. Jan and I flew to Houston and then drove 200 miles to spend a day and a couple of nights in San Antonio. Jan has never spent time in this part of the world, and SA is a pretty cool place to visit. The city is remarkably pretty, the Riverwalk is justly famous, the people are unfailingly friendly and welcoming, and a visit to the Alamo tells you all you need to know about why Texans are … different than you and me.

A restaurant on the Riverwalk is pretty much my favorite in the country (and I have eaten in 47 states so far!) Boudro’s is not Mexican or Tex-Mex or Southwestern or Creole. It is the best example of pure local cuisine I have ever had, and it was a great joy to share that with Jan.

As we finished and the waitress asked if we wanted anything else, I answered impulsively. “Can I buy an apron?”

Now, you know that I have an extensive mug collection representing my travels (including one from the Menger Hotel where we are staying) and my previous visits to Boudro’s indicated that their china pattern did not extend to monogramed mugs. So I asked for an apron, expecting the answer to be “No, we can’t do that.”

Behold, I asked, and I received.






Tuesday, I will drop Jan off in Houston and head east to the Mississippi River north of New Orleans to visit the Whitney Plantation and the Laura Plantation to learn something about slavery in the South, prior to my November trip. San Antonio to Houston to New Orleans is about 550 miles — I haven’t driven that far in a day in a very long time!

The Second Week

Saturday morning I flew out to Minneapolis/St. Paul to begin the second trip. From there I drove east to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to visit Christ Church Cathedral. (Some of you may have heard me mistakenly talk about visiting the Cathedral at Fond du Lac. That’s because I recently did a Tuesday sermon on the “Fond du Lac Circus” and we featured one of their bishops, Charles Grafton Chapman in the Trumpet recently.)

I was warmly greeted by the Dean and several of the dozen or so communicants at the 8:00 service. The Dean and I chatted briefly about Johannes Oertel, a name he had not heard before. He did share enough about the history of their cathedral building for me to understand that Oertel’s sons wrote their biography of their father before a new sanctuary was constructed between the world wars. The painting they describe no longer exists, but I was able to identify two Oertel carvings, brought to the new space from the old one. One is a Lectern and the other a Prayer Desk.





The Cathedral has an archivist, who has my contact information and will be back in touch with anything else she can find.


The Pulpit at Luther Seminary

I have gone several times to the “Celebration of Biblical Preaching” conference at Luther Seminary in the past. Thanks to a Lilly Foundation grant, the format has changed, to include a new feature this year: a “master class” for experienced preachers. I was one of the lucky few to be able to enroll, and so spent a day with Professor Karoline Lewis from the seminary faculty and 11 other preachers. Each of us preached a sermon and received feedback from Dr. Lewis. It was grueling!! I have said that a part of the value of this sabbatical time will be for me to hear some sermons from other people, but 11 in one day is a significant challenge for anyone’s powers of attention and concentration. (I was the only one, by the way, who chose to play a recording of an actual sermon I had preached, rather than recreate one live for the group. You can hear it by clicking above on this year’s sermons and going to the recording for 11 September 2016.)

Tuesday and Wednesday we will return to the more usual format of the conference and hear four sermons by the keynote speakers, followed by descriptions and discussions about how their creative processes work.

UPDATE: On my way back I reflected on two facts: first, this year’s conference was the first where more than 50% of the registered attendees were not Lutherans. Something like 13 other denominations were represented, including (for the first time) Baptists! Second, as usual, about 50% of the attendees were women. As someone who remembers the struggles of the first ordained women to be accepted, that we have reached gender parity in the pulpit is a blessing beyond my expectations of 35 years ago.

The First Week

"The Dwelling Place" on Beecher Creek

“The Dwelling Place” on Beecher Creek

There is no better way to transition from one state of being to another than to get on the road and get away. So, on Friday, 23 September, I will pack up and head north to our family camp in Edinburg, New York. Alone in the woods seems like a good place to focus on writing. On Sunday, 25 September, I will preside and preach at the Church of the Transfiguration on Blue Mountain Lake, the only guest appearance I have planned during the sabbatical.trans-bml

The first week will end with a quick trip through central New England. I will stop at Hampshire College, in Amherst, MA — my alma mater — specifically to tour a brand new building, the Kern Center. This new facility, widely described as the “greenest building” ever built, will generate all of its own power and recycle all of its own water and waste. It’s construction was equally green, leaving virtually no “carbon footprint” during the building process. All that plus the fact that it was designed by the Cambridge, MA, architectural firm Bruner/Cott & Associates, where my daughter Meg works as an office manager and executive assistant to the principals.kern-center

Finally, I will meet with the Rt. Rev’d Nicholas Knisely, the Bishop of Rhodes Island, to turn over to him a red stole that belonged to his late uncle, the Rev’d Joseph Knisely, that somehow became part of Emmanuel’s collection of vestments.

The Rev’d Canon Dr. Mark Gatza, Rector

As you have heard about in various recent announcements and read about in our newsletter, The Trumpet, I am taking a sabbatical this fall. It begins 21 September and will ruPulpit-pic-300x265n to 17 December. We are delighted to have Fr. Bill Smith conduct services and preach in my absence. Our office staff and Vestry are prepared to carry on without me, ready for the day to day tasks as well as the surprises that frequently add spice to congregational life.

A sabbatical is not a vacation, and though I will not be in the office or with you on Sundays, I will be busy. My “Totidem Verbis” column in the 27 September Trumpet details my tentative schedule. Both on the road and for those periods when I will be at home, I will be writing.

Though I will not be blogging about my experiences, I will use this space to let you know how things are going, and share a little bit about my travels.


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