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What Does “Sabbatical” Mean for Joy Reigns?

By Jen Mabe, in News

The word “Sabbatical” draws from the Sabbath concept in scripture. The idea is a part of all our lives, on a small scale, as we use our weekends to do a different kind of work and to renew and prepare ourselves to plunge back into our Monday thru Friday lives. It’s a period of renewal before getting on with the business at hand. Sabbaticals are important to help ensure growth and renewal for the pastor, and thus also the ongoing health of the entire church and congregation.

It’s not a vacation from “being a pastor”; it’s a time for devotional, theological, pastoral, and personal reflection and renewal. It’s an intentional, planned time of doing, not escaping.

Various studies have given us some important statistics that support the need for pastoral sabbaticals, and the ELCA recommends them for each Pastor. Here are just a few of the statistics:

  • An ELCA study of active pastors a few years ago found 69% were overweight; 64% had high blood pressure; 13% were taking anti-depressants (a higher rate than the population at large, at the time of the study);
  • In general: 33% of ministers report burnout within their first 5 years; 52% say they/their spouses believe being in ministry is hazardous to their family’s health and well-being; 90% work more than 50 hours per week.

It’s for these and other reasons that a sabbatical is part of Pastor Sara’s contract.

Out of many possible questions congregations can have, a couple of initial ones have likely already occurred to you. They’re pretty basic and are probably typical of all of us:

What will Sundays be like? Who will I call in an emergency? What will we do “without a pastor”?

Please know—we will not be without a pastoral presence!

In faithful covenant with the Bishop and Clergy, as well as in faithful covenant with each other and with God, we can trust that we will never be alone.

Even though we’re very early in the process (the Sabbatical period won’t begin until 2019), we know this: The pastoral needs of Joy Reigns will be met fully and professionally, with love, care, and intentionality. Our congregational council, Pr. Sara, and this Sabbatical Team, along with the Synod, will see to it that resources are identified and plans made…we believe this may include some combination of both nearby and/or various retired clergy, as well as lay assistance. Joy Reigns—all of you—all of US—will be well cared for.

How are costs covered? Can we afford it?

We are applying for a Lily Grant, and so costs to Joy Reigns should be minimal if any at all. The grant will not only cover most of the costs, it will also provide up to $15K to the congregation to defray the cost of pastoral coverage. (We will continue to maintain Pr. Sara’s contracted compensation package, but that’s, of course, part of our ongoing expenses with or without the sabbatical.)

So in summary, we don’t believe Joy Reigns’ costs should increase, but we will need to welcome other pastoral care and coverage during the sabbatical period.

This is very early in the process—the grant application is due this April, but it will be a number of months before we know if the application has been approved—and the sabbatical won’t begin until Fall 2019.

As we move through the grant application and the planning processes, you’ll have questions. You’re encouraged to contact any member of the Council or the Sabbatical Team who are Monica Bramelish, Mike Walker and John Williams, as well as Pastor Sara, to share your questions.

As plans proceed, we’ll keep you informed! A successful sabbatical is a joint effort between all of us and results in healthy pastoral leadership and a healthy congregation.

Youth Ministry Activities

By Sonya Connolly, in News


SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 11TH we will hold a PANCAKE BREAKFAST after worship to support those attending the National Youth Gathering in Houston. And SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 18TH will be our next SUNDAY SUPPER for high schoolers from 5:00-7:00 pm. Call the church office or see Ali Purvis for more details!


By Pastor Sara, in News

Thank you to all who donated diapers and wipes. We collected 3,842 diapers and 78 packages of wipes this Christmas season. You can still help out with the Angel Tree through January 8th!

Please Join Us for Christmas Eve Worship

By Pastor Sara, in News

We invite you to experience the spirit of Christmas and celebrate the birth of our savior by worshipping with us on December 24th at the following times:

9:30 a.m. Contemplative Christmas Service

4:00 & 7:00 p.m. Christmas Praise Service

Our Joy Reigns Christmas Program is scheduled for   SUNDAY, DECEMBER 31st

Would you and/or your child like to be involved in this year’s Christmas program? We will continue the Christmas story with the characters after the birth including the wisemen and Anna and Simeon. Please contact Melody Hession at if you are interested.

Joy to the World!


Family Advent Devotional

By Pastor Sara, in News


Prepare your hearts for Christmas with this online advent devotional from Sparkhouse (part of the ELCA Publishing House). Each free daily devotional includes a Bible verse, ideas for family activities and discussion. We know this is a busy season, so the devotionals can be completed in 5 minutes or less— or while you are on-the-go with your family! It will be delivered to your inbox December 3rd through Christmas Day. Sign up here.

Barriers, Hoops and Razor Wire

By Pastor Sara, in News


The Community of St. Dysmas (CSD) is an ELCA congregation within the walls of the Maryland Correctional Institution.  It is supported by the efforts of churches and individuals of the Delaware-Maryland Synod and the Metro Washington DC Synod. Pastor Gerry of The Community of St. Dysmas shares these words:

“Barriers, Hoops and Razor Wire”

I have often thought as I enter on or our St. Dysmas sites to lead worship of all the hassles to get inside the facility.  First a long drive to reach the site, then a long drive to the facility itself, and the first of several gates. I am struck by the layer upon layer of razor wire surrounding the prison (Curtis Dawkins in his Book “The Graybar Hotel” says about razor wire; “Razor wire is like Slinkys for masochistic giants that sit atop every fence, doubled up on buildings and the ground.  It’s sometime called “concertina”.  I don’t know why…I have seen plastic bottles and empty coffee bags impaled permanently on the regularly spaced spikes that are meant to snag the clothing of anyone intent on slinking through.  The containers remain there empty-warning flags flying and flapping over the years.”).  After passing my worship material and myself through a x ray machine, there is the mandatory pat down including emptying pockets and showing the back of my socks.  Only then am I allowed to make the long walk to the designated space for worship.   The trek to bring God’s Word and the Sacrament to the men and women “onside” takes patience and resolve.
One of our volunteers, Pastor Gary Rhinesmith from All Saints in Bowie, puts the trek into perspective.  “We are told in Matthew 25 that when we visit the person in prison, we are visiting Jesus.  Considering all the obstacles and barriers that are put into our path, they sure make it hard to see Jesus.”

This in part is a way of expressing my gratitude to the volunteers of the Community of St. Dysmas for all the hoops that they must jump through to bring Jesus to the men and women who make up this unique congregation.  They go through a lot and sacrifice a great deal of personal time to minister “to the least of these.”

In addition, my colleague, Pastor Gary, makes am extremely relevant point.  While we are given a mandate by Jesus “to visit the least of these”, society and our culture can put up significant barriers.  While not all of you visit “the least of these in prison”, you do live with Jesus’ mandate in Matthew 25.  The question for all of us children of God is “what barriers, hoops and razor wire” must you overcome in your ministry to the least of them?

In the Name of Jesus!

Pastor Gerry of The Community of St. Dysmas
PS.  Many of the barriers which we overcome is for the sake of security.

Recommended Reading

*+ “The Graybar Hotel” a collection of short stories by Michigan inmate Curtis Dawkins
+ “Enchanted” a novel where evil and magic collide by Rene Denfeld
+ “America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America” by Jim Wallis – The title says it all!

Pastor Gerry Rickel is the called Pastor of CSD, since September 2011.  Pastor Gerry partners with other clergy and rostered leaders to preside at worship services and lead Bible studies at the various sites.

I was in prison, and you came to visit me.  Matthew 25:36b

The Community of St. Dysmas
905 Frederick Road + Catonsville, MD 21228 

Phone 443-326-1115  + +

Support our youth and order holiday greenery!

By Sonya Connolly, in News

Joy Reigns’ youth (grades 6-12) will be selling holiday greenery again this year. Stop by the table at the back of the church after worship to see what’s available. Items are on sale through November 5th. Don’t miss your chance to enjoy these beautiful items and support our youth!

What’s Next?

By Pastor Sara, in News

Every month, the national ELCA Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, writes a column for the magazine Living Lutheran. This month’s was particularly wonderful titled October 32 and Beyond. You can read the whole article here: https:// 32-beyond/. I appreciate her focus on what’s next.

We have been celebrating all year the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that culminates this weekend. But what happens on “October 32”? What happens for the next 500 years? I pray that we will focus on the things most important to Luther: reforming (always making better) the church, reading the Bible in a language understandable to us, households being the primary place for teaching about God, focusing on grace and most important to Luther, but less talked about, freedom.

Freedom of the Christian, by Luther, is a short but vital work to understand truly what it means to be Lutheran. We have freedom FROM sin (by God’s love for us through Jesus) and freedom FOR loving and serving. Happy Reformation! I’m looking forward to the next 500 years freed to love and serve.

God’s Peace,

Pastor Sara

P.S. Who needs to experience the power of this freedom in their own lives? Who will you invite to join you for worship this week?


By Sonya Connolly, in News

REFORMATION ART SHOW AND AUCTION: Friday, October 27, 6:30-9:30pm at Zion Lutheran Church (400 E. Lexington St., Baltimore). Eight young artists of color from Baltimore have been creating works of art, visual and performance, that communicate their understanding of faith and reformation in the 21st century. Auction supports The Center for Grace-Full Living at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Baltimore and The Sand Gallery.

 REFORMATION FESTIVAL: Saturday, October 28, 1-4pm at Zion Lutheran Church (400 E Lexington St., Baltimore). Features booths with different aspects of life during Luther’s time – medicine, toys, songs, crafts, and theology of the middle ages. Children may collect stamps from different booths to earn a prize. There will also be a marketplace with crafts, sausages and beer for sale.

 METRO DC SYNOD REFORMATION SUNDAY WORSHIP SERVICE: Sunday, October 29, 4 p.m. at the Washington National Cathedral (3101 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.). Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton will preach.

 LUTHER ART EXHIBIT: The Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St., Baltimore. Free. Open Wed-Sun from 10-5

through October 29. Uncertain Times: Martin Luther’s Remedies for the Soul focuses on the ways in which Martin Luther comforted the distressed souls of his contemporaries by approaching them as a father, a husband, and a friend—rather than as a priest or theologian.

 LUTHER OPERA PREMIERE: Sunday, November 5, 4pm at Christ Lutheran Inner Harbor (701 S. Charles St., Baltimore). Hollis Thoms’ latest opera, And did the World with Devils Swarm, was written to commemorate the Reformation’s 500th Anniversary. It focuses on Martin and Katie’s marriage and relationship. Tickets at

LEAD Team Update

By Pastor Sara, in News

The LEAD Team made a brief presentation to the congregation on Sunday October 1st. Here is a summary of the powerful presentation as well as information on the next steps of the process.

The LEAD process has involved three great listenings: listening to God, listening to the congregation, and listening to the neighbor.

Last February, you may recall that the LEAD Team surveyed you as a congregation. We heard two common themes in our questions:

What is the brokenness in our neighborhood, community and world that God has given you a passion to help address?

The single highest response, about 20%, was ‘Drug Use’

How has God positioned Joy Reigns to serve its neighbors?

About two thirds of the congregation responded, ‘Thrift Shop.

This summer, with some training, the LEAD team then began listening to the neighborhood, with over 15 one hour listening sessions completed with schools, hospitals, community leaders, and businesses. We asked the same question about the brokenness, and their responses were:

  • 85% of the interviewees identified ‘drug use’ as one of the concerns for the community
  • Interestingly, although not asked nor tracked, at least 20% of our interviewees identified JRLC as the ‘church with the trailers’ or the church with the ‘Thrift Shop’

Why we heard it

  • More than 100 Americans die every day from drug overdose
    • For perspective, that’s about 16 plane crashes per month (assuming 185 people on a Boeing 737 flight)
  • Maryland had a little more than 2000 people die from drug overdose in 2016
    • That’s almost one plane crash per month in our state
  • As of 1 September, 94 people in Anne Arundel County have died from drug overdose
  • Many families in our church have been touched by this crisis directly

The LEAD Team has heard many powerful and real stories:

Counselors at Central Middle School

Without hesitation, they all agreed the greatest problem is children coming to school struggling because their families are battling/struggling with addiction. They were quick to point out that they are not therapeutic counselors, they are educational counselors. They refer families to outside, community services. But can’t guarantee that they follow through or are getting the help that they need. This truth became clear to Jenny last week when a coworker, an Edgewater resident, shared a story about her neighbor, a woman, her boyfriend and 2 children. The women and her boyfriend are both addicted to opioids/heroin. Last Friday the boyfriend overdosed at their house and was not able to be revived. He died at the home with the 2 children present, a first grader and sixth grader. Those children will need support and love.


These stories are more than the “right answer” because people are reading the newspaper. The Opioid Epidemic is the brokenness that is touching many places in unique ways. The librarian told us that she can “see it in their eyes” when a drug user comes into the library, maybe for a safe place to be out of the elements or because they are asking for help. She also encounters many families and friends who come looking for resources in the library and the community on addiction and recovery.

ER Nurse at AAMC:

In general, the ER sees an average of 200 patients per day. They’ve seen an uptick in overdoses, particularly fentanyl overdoses, that’s what killed Michael Jackson. Because of this increase, AAMC has begun an outreach program for overdose victims. There is a staff person in the ER to help with their issues that led to the overdose. AAMC is now prescribing Narcan (medication that reverses the dangerous respiratory effects of opioids) to overdose victims. She sees that this crisis is affecting ALL people, ALL income levels, ALL backgrounds and ALL races.

What’s next for LEAD?

The LEAD Team has determined the need to go deeper into our neighborhood listening. We have done wonderful general listenings and will now be doing approximately 10 more listenings specifically with those who have expertise in the Opioid Epidemic including prevention, active addiction and recovery. The LEAD Team is listening with open ears, but also listening for ways that the Thrift Shop (how we are known in the community) and solutions to the opioid epidemic (greatest brokenness) might work together to bring about renewal, abundant life and community healing.

After these listenings, we will them move into the final three steps of the implementation phase.

What is needed from the congregation?

First, your prayers as the LEAD team continues this work. We are prayerfully expecting to find a nexus of our gifts and the community’s need in these next specific listening.

Second, names and contact information for individuals and organizations that you might think the LEAD team should be in contact with. Please provide those names by our next meeting on Monday October 9th.

Third, and finally, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the LEAD team with your comments or questions:

Melissa Fullerton, chair

Jenny Corkill

Frank Downs

Dave Emminizer

Todd Liller

Pastor Sara Yotter