Dear Ones,

As many of you have heard by now, I am pregnant. It was a joy to share the news with you on Sunday the 22nd and receive so many congratulations and good wishes. Thank you.  If all goes well, I will be welcoming a child into my family in the middle of April. Brian and I are thrilled. DeForest, who is two, is confused and unaware of how dramatically his life will shift, yet almost every night he pokes my stomach and says “goodnight, baby.”

‘What will this mean for the church?’ You might wonder. This will be a learning moment for many of us. Assuming a relatively healthy pregnancy, relatively routine delivery, and relatively healthy baby, I plan to take about eight weeks of leave, beginning when I go into labor, sometime in early-to-mid April, and ending in the middle of June. Six weeks of this leave is the paid parental leave that you all offer as part of my letter of agreement (Thank you for being a generous employer and living our commitments to justice in this way!) and two weeks will be accumulated vacation and sick time.  I believe this is the first time a minister of People’s Church has ever taken a parental leave. Thankfully, we have experience of sabbaticals, including Diane’s sabbatical last spring, to remind us that having the professional staff away for a time can be a chance for the community to learn and grow.

What will this look like in practice? Many of these plans are still taking shape, but here is what I know so far. We will have wonderful worship in my absence.  Before I knew about this pregnancy, I had already scheduled a music service and Jill McAllister to guest preach in late April. We have our annual youth bridging service in early June. Diane and I decided to have two services led by our Coming of Age class next May because there are 25(!) participants and we want everyone to have a chance to share. It is the practice among Unitarian Universalist ministers locally to lead worship at one another’s churches during sabbaticals, parental leaves, and medical leaves. I have done this on a few of my Sundays off from People’s. I have already lined up guest preachers for the spring. You’ll get to hear from UU ministers and candidates from Jackson, Grand Rapids, and Elkhart. My plan is to return to lead the flower service on June 10. (I will bring the baby with me that day.)

I’m working with church leadership, including the staff, board and the committee on ministry, to figure out how to cover other aspects of my work while I am away, including pastoral care, institutional leadership, and staff supervision. As these plans take shape, we will keep you informed. If you have suggestions for how this might be done or would like to volunteer to step into more leadership for these months, please let me know.

In the midst of making plans and managing logistics, I am grateful that People’s Church is among the communities that are helping to raise my children.

Thank you for being such a generous, loving community.

See you in church,
Rachel

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