Smiling pastors standing side-by-side
Smiling pastors standing side-by-side

By far the largest source of clergy sabbatical funds is the Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis-based charity founded by the family of Eli Lilly, the founder of a large pharmaceutical company. Since 2000, the Lilly Foundation's Clergy Renewal Programs have provided grants of up to $50,000 each to congregations of a range of Christian denominations so they can send their pastors on sabbatical. Other more specialized grant programs also exist.

Lilly Foundation Clergy Renewal Programs

The point of a sabbatical for pastors is to give them time to recharge their emotional and intellectual batteries for ministry. On sabbatical, pastors do scholarly research or pursue a distinctive interest, such as taking a traditional pilgrimage. One 2013 Lilly grant recipient planned to take an intensive program in piano performance while serving as a lighthouse keeper. The Christian Theological Seminary's Center for Pastoral Excellence in Indianapolis is the major source of Lilly sabbatical funds. In 2013, the center awarded almost $4 million for 22 Indiana churches, as well as 87 congregations in another 31 states and Washington, D.C.

Gateway to Lilly Funds

The second major source of Lilly grants is the Louisville Institute, which, like the Center for Pastoral Excellence, is funded by the Lilly Endowment. The institute is part of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary of Louisville, Kentucky. The institute offers four types of grants: grants of up to $15,000 for pastoral studies, up to $40,000 for an individual research project, up to $40,000 to support minority scholars writing their first book and up to $45,000 over three years for team projects designed to strengthen North American congregations. Scholarly grants are also available.

Individual Programs

Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, provides grants for pastors to spend up to a week on campus for research and reflection. Wheat Ridge Ministries of Itasca, Illinois, which once funded sabbaticals, now provides planning advice for sabbaticals and runs a crowdfunding site called WeRaise for both sabbaticals and Lutheran church projects. And while it is not a traditional pastor sabbatical, the annual Crosscurrents research colloquium in New York City, funded by the William Coolidge Foundation, provides room, board and access to scholarly libraries each July so its diverse participants can study and reflect on religion and social leadership.

Pastors2Go

The Living Waters Church in North Port, Florida, offers an unusual sabbatical option: part-time preaching for one to three months in exchange for free housing. The church puts up visiting pastors in a posh two-bedroom condominium known as The Beerbower House in honor of the philanthropists who funded it. The program, called Pastors2Go, offers its beneficiaries time to pursue sabbatical interests on their own. Recipients must be members of denominations whose theology is similar to that of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The program began in 2010.