Rev. Mary Cartwright sits in a pew in the Nashville United Methodist Church. Cartwright has begun a three month sabbatical that will take her to Europe and through the United States, thanks to a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. Abigail Youmans | The Democrat

A local minister has begun a three month sabbatical that will take her to Europe and through the United States, thanks to a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Nashville United Methodist Church (NUMC) received nearly $50,000 in grant funds from the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations.

In 2020, NUMC was one of the 28 congregations in Indiana selected to participate in the competitive program, which is funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and administered by Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.

The program’s grants allow congregations to support their pastors with the gift of extended time away from their ministerial duties and responsibilities.

NUMC Rev. Mary W. Cartwright applied for the grant in 2019 and was awarded the opportunity to take her sabbatical in 2020. Due to the pandemic, her plans were put on hold.

This past Monday, her sabbatical was able to begin.

The theme of her grant had to do with “pilgrimage,” she said. Living in a tourist community, she wanted to explore other kinds of places and tourist communities and see how that works with the sense of pilgrimage and tourism.

Since the Endowment established the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations in 1999 and the National Clergy Renewal Program for congregations in the other 49 states in 2000, more than 3,000 congregations have participated in the program, including the 28 Indiana congregations receiving grants in 2020.

Ministers whose congregations are awarded the grants use their renewal experiences to engage in reflection and renewal, a press release from NUMC said.

The approach respects the “Sabbath time” concept, offering ministers a carefully considered respite that may include travel, study, rest, prayer and immersive arts and cultural experiences.

‘A time to recharge’

Cartwright will focus on three areas in her time away from the pulpit: Artistic expression, pilgrimage and civil rights.

Cartwright’s renewal leave will explore practices of Christian pilgrimage with travel to Spain to explore Benedictine pilgrimage sites.

Her time away will also include traveling the African American Heritage Trail from eastern Arkansas to Atlanta and a time of “artistic pilgrimage” delving into the art of wood turning with classes and concentrated time for practice.

Cartwright said she had this idea for several years, with a goal to focus time on different things in different spaces and settings. The Christian tradition of pilgrimage, she said, is to set out and see where God takes you.

“I see it as a time to recharge,” she said.

Being in ministry, Cartwright said that the calling of a pastor can sometime get wrapped up in the tasks.

“So this is a time to be open to a renewed sense of calling,” she said.

She also sees it as a time for the church to hear a different voice and to experience a renewed sense of who they are as God’s people.

Ministries have found themselves learning how to do things differently than before the pandemic, so with a shift in operations, she believes it will be a nice change to gain a renewed perspective, Cartwright said.

“Though it would have been nice in 2020, this is actually a great time,” she said.

While Cartwright is on her pilgrimage, the interim pastor will be Rev. David Hayes, an ordained minister in the Church of the Nazarene currently serving as Bereavement Coordinator for SouthernCare Hospice in Bloomington.

Hayes is among the friends and contemporaries of Cartwright to have also received the grant.

Cartwright commended the program and the Lilly Endowment for its work with Indiana clergies.

“Lilly really believes it strengthens churches and pastors to have this constant renewal,” she said. “The program is just amazing.”

About the grant

Through the program, Indiana congregations may apply for grants of up to $50,000 to support renewal experiences for their pastors.

According to a press release, the program is “collaborative in nature and implementation,” allowing congregations to partner with their ministers in developing experiences that address their unique renewal needs and aspirations.

Congregational needs during the minister’s renewal experience also are considered. Up to $15,000 of the grant may be used to fund interim pastoral leadership during the pastor’s retreat, as well as for renewal activities within the congregation.

“Pastors play an important role in nourishing the spiritual lives of individuals and in guiding the work of the Christian congregations they serve,” said Christopher Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion.

“Through these grants, we seek to honor pastors for their extraordinary service and enable them to engage in a brief period of rest and renewal. We have learned that such experiences invigorate the leadership of pastors and bring new vitality to their congregations as well.”

Rev. Robert Saler, director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs, noted that the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana congregations integrates key attributes of healthy congregations, including a mutual respect for the renewal needs of both ministers and the congregations they serve.

“The program provides an opportunity for congregations to express appreciation for their ministers’ service and leadership,” Saler said.

“At a time when leaders are often praised for their pace of innovation and productivity, the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal program for Indiana congregations pays homage to the timeless wisdom embedded in the practice of reflection and renewal.”

Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis directs the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations and a second program for congregations across the United States through its Center for Pastoral Excellence.