St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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John Balicki’s Sabbatical 2016


These are notes we prepared prior to John Balicki’s Sabbatical in the summer for 2016.

April 28, 2016

Dear St. Mark’s Family: 

Many people have asked questions about my sabbatical. This newsletter is an attempt to give some basic detail about why am I taking a sabbatical, what I am doing, and what will be happening at St. Mark’s while I am gone.  If this explanation doesn’t answer all your questions, I encourage you to join me Sunday, May 1, from 9 to 10 AM for our Sabbatical Symposium where I will present this information in more detail and there will be the opportunity to ask questions. 


Why is John Going on a Sabbatical?

The Diocese of Maine “encourages” its priests and congregations to work out an arrangement to take off four months every five years for the sole purpose of renewal and rest. The purpose of a sabbatical is for rest and renewal – not accomplishing any specific purpose such as study or continuing education.  Having worked for all of my adult life, approximately 36 years, without having a sabbatical (that’s the problem with eight career changes!), I was ready to take the opportunity.  The Vestry agreed to not only my taking four months off in the summer of 2016 but to follow Diocesan recommendations for funding which means that while gone I receive my full salary and travel expenses during the sabbatical will be split equally among me, the Diocese and St. Mark’s.  The Finance Committee had wisely tucked away some reserve funds for this occasion so no sabbatical expenses are coming out of the 2016 operating budget.  A $3,960 grant from the Diocesan Loring Fund was awarded to me for my sabbatical and we have already received the check.

The concept of sabbatical comes from the word “Sabbath”.  The beginning of the second chapter of the Book of Genesis tells us:

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.   By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating thaPlet he had done.

An editor in today’s culture might suggest taking those lines out because frankly there isn’t much action. Why do we have to describe God resting? When does God go back to work?  Well God rests because that is part of the natural rhythm of creation. Our culture has upset that natural rhythm by continuously working.  The average worker added 164 more hours (one whole month) to the work year between 1968 and 1988.  It is not hard to guess what got eliminated in those 164 hours: leisure, rest, recreation, family time, and church.  Our culture of work demands more and more today.  This can be doubly hard when the work done is meaningful, satisfying and helps other people. But there is still a time to work and a time to rest.   Our culture is very challenged by the third commandment of keeping the Sabbath Day holy.

‘Remember that everything you have received is a blessing.  Remember to delight in your life, in the fruits of your labor. Remember to stop and offer thanks for the wonder of it.’  Remember as if we would forget.  Indeed the assumption is that we will forget. And history has proven that given enough time, we will” 

Wayne Muller, Sabbath

While the main meaning of Sabbath is to keep one day holy out of a seven day week, Sabbath also has meaning on a daily basis, a yearly basis and beyond.  A sabbatical is an extended four-month Sabbath – a time to lie fallow, to find rest on a deeper level.

I invite all of you to consider the meaning of Sabbath in your own lives by doing the following:

  • Have a serious conversation with those in your family about the time you take for rest and renewal
  • Think about the daily, weekly and annual Sabbath in your own life

Some resources I found helpful in understanding the meaning of sabbath:

Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller

Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time by Dorothy C. Bass


How long will John be gone?

John’s sabbatical will begin after services end on Pentecost Sunday, May 15.  John will return from sabbatical on Sunday, September 11 to celebrate and preach at that service.

What will John do on his sabbatical?

John had complete freedom to design his sabbatical which will alternate between some time at home (more during the first half) and travel.  The travel portion of the sabbatical will include the following:

May 20-22 A Christian Buddhist Retreat led by Rev. Robert Kennedy. S.J., Jesuit priest and Zen teacher.

Shunryu Suzuki is famous for saying, “Each of you is perfect the way you are … and you can use a little improvement.” Zen is the art of paradoxically living these two truths simultaneously and meeting each moment exactly as it is with readiness and openness.

June 6 to 13 Credo II Retreat, Delray Beach, FL

CREDO II explores what it means to live an undivided and whole life, a life that is congruent with one’s values, beliefs and faith – a life that is whole and holy.  In this holistic sense, the conference will help me to explore my spiritual, vocational, physical and financial health.  This conference is sponsored and paid for mainly by the Church Pension Fund to contribute toward the long-term health and vitality of Episcopal priests.

June 20 to July 1  John will lead a bicycle trip with some friends from Kittery to Fort Kent along the Maine East Coast Greenway which John helped to designate during his career at the Maine Department of Transportation. We will bicycle over 600 miles in twelve days.

July 9 to August 18 Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage Hike, Spain

El Camino de Santiago, in English “The Way of Saint James,” is the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, where legend has it that the remains of Jesus’s apostle Saint James the Elder lie. The Camino has existed as a Christian pilgrimage for well over 1,000 years.  In the Middle Ages there were three major Christian pilgrimages: to Jerusalem, to Rome, and to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The route I will travel is the Camino del Norte, not as well known or traveled as the Camino Frances which was featured in the movie, “The Way”.  The Camino del Norte follows the northern coast of Spain beginning at Irun which is on the French border.  The route is approximately 800 km or 500 miles. What will it be like along the way you ask?

The Camino is a long walk. While underway, the peregrino (meaning pilgrim) needs support for food, lodging and direction. An infrastructure of hospices arose in the Middle Ages and this infrastructure still exists – and in fact, it is growing rapidly. There are still a few peregrino facilities run by religious orders, but much more common today are albergues or refugios. These are essentially operated like and look like youth hostels typically with bunk beds in dormitories and communal shower and toilet facilities.


August 20 to 26 Retreat at Iona, Scotland

Iona is a tiny and beautiful Hebridean island off the west coast of Scotland, cradle of Christianity in Scotland, where in 563 AD the Irish monk Columba (Columkille) established a monastic settlement that evangelized large parts of Scotland and the north of England and became an important center of European Christianity. In the Middle Ages it became the site of a Benedictine abbey, and over the centuries it has attracted many thousands of people on their own pilgrim journeys.  The Iona Community is a dispersed Christian ecumenical community working for peace and social justice, rebuilding of community and the renewal of worship. A commitment to Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation is an integral part of the Rule of the Iona Community.

August 27 to September 5  Family vacation in Scotland – details to be determined.

How can we follow John during his sabbatical?

John will be keeping a travel blog and you can follow his pilgrimage at

Let Evening Come

By Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon

shine through chinks in the barn, moving

up the bales as the sun moves down.


Let the cricket take up chafing

as a woman takes up her needles

and her yarn. Let evening come.


Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned

in long grass. Let the stars appear

and the moon disclose her silver horn.


Let the fox go back to its sandy den.

Let the wind die down. Let the shed

go black inside. Let evening come.


To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop

in the oats, to air in the lung

let evening come.


Let it come, as it will, and don’t

be afraid. God does not leave us

comfortless, so let evening come.


of the supply clergy who will have to travel some distance.

Who will be in charge of St. Mark’s while John is gone?

Supply Clergy will only be here on Sunday morning and special occasions as needed.  Senior Warden, Tim McFadden will be in charge of the parish while John is gone, similar to an interim period.  Tim will be assisted by the Vestry which has divided into task forces (worship, pastoral care, mission and outreach, administration and sabbatical events) to help coordinate responsibilities.


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