This September will mark the beginning of my 34th year as Senior Pastor of Chapel Hill. This is unusual. The average tenure of a Senior Pastor in the United States is 7.7 years. I’ve been in Gig Harbor more than four times longer than that.

When my large-church colleagues ask me how I’ve stayed in one place so long, my stock answer is, “Chapel Hill is my Sweetheart Church”…and you have been. First off, I have never had a “bad” Session (elder board). I’ve always felt supported by our ruling elders and there are many, dare I say, most pastors who could not say that. Additionally, as a congregation, you have been loving, risk-taking, forgiving and flexible. And, you have been kind to me and my family. And very generous.

One expression of that generosity is your sabbatical policy. Every seven years, you have granted permission for me to take a sabbatical…a leave…during which my family and I would travel and I would study, pray and plan. This opportunity to pause, rest and reset has been one of the most important reasons for my longevity. Instead of having to leave and start over somewhere new, as the average pastor does after seven years, the gracious gift of sabbatical allowed me to refresh…and remain in the only church I have ever led and loved in a community that blesses me and my family.

My next sabbatical will begin in September. We are still finalizing travel and other plans but I will be back in the pulpit for Advent. One of the things that makes this possible is my incredible team. Pastor Ellis will serve as primary preacher in my absence. Pastor Larry will continue to lead the staff. Those two will be meeting weekly with our Session leadership to insure clear communication between our elders and our leadership team. And the rest of our pastors, Megan, Julie, Rachel and Gunnar, will continue to provide the great leadership we have come to expect from them.

And in answer to the question that is floating around, no, this is not the start of my retirement. I’m looking forward to preaching Advent with you and, in the New Year, will start a series on the “Essentials of Our Faith,” as defined by our own denomination, the EPC.

This will be my fifth sabbatical…my fifth opportunity to really STOP, rest and present myself and my ministry to the Lord for his direction. It is an incredible kindness and, as I said, one of the primary reasons that I have not only endured but have thrived as your pastor over these three-and-one-half decades. So, thank you, again, for being my Sweetheart Church. I love you and appreciate you more than you can know.

See you in church, Sunday! I’m going to be preaching about our family on mission from one of my favorite chapters in the book of Acts, chapter 16.

Pastor Mark

photo by Amine Rock Hoovr on Unsplash