Surprised by Grace (and a Grant)

The regular-sized envelope came in the mail, and I hesitated to open it. I mentally prepared myself for disappointment. After all, over 400 applicants were seeking funding for their sabbatical projects; only 40 would be selected. I told myself that the process of applying and refining my sabbatical plan was worth it in itself, despite the fact that it was clearly a long-shot. I mean, who’s going to find the study of old dead interpreters of the Old Testament all that stimulating?

The Louisville Institute, based at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Kentucky, is a Lily Endowmentfunded organization that provides grants for enriching the pastoral ministry and Christian institutions. One of their grant programs is the Sabbatical Grant for Pastoral Leaders (SGPL), which is designed to help fund sabbatical projects for pastors.

I spent months writing and re-writing my proposal, reflecting on what the ideal sabbatical would look like, and how I could optimally refresh, renew, and rediscover my pastoral vocation. I had friends and colleagues read and critique various drafts. Finally, the deadline arrived, and all I could do was send it in and wait. In the mean time, I prepared myself for the statistically likely prospect of disappointment.

 I held the letter in my hands, in the Neerlandia Co-Op, as people that I knew walked by and I tried to smile and wave and not look like I was tense, nervous, and distracted. But the letter was thick…quite a few pages. One page would be all it would take to inform me of my rejection. Quickly I ripped open the letter, and my eyes fell upon the words…”Congratulations…”

I still can’t believe it. It was a genuine moment of grace. In this blog I plan to record my reflections both as I prepare for and experience my upcoming sabbatical, which will take place from May through August, 2009. I am grateful both to the council of Neerlandia CRC and to the Louisville Institute for making it possible. But right now, I’m still in a state of pleasant amazement and surprise. Thanks be to God!

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