The Road to Reconnection: Reflections from the Journey of My 10-Week Summer Sabbatical

On May 19, 2019, I embarked on a journey of which I did not know what to expect or exactly where it would lead me. With the blessing of my family, along with the leadership of Mt. Calvary Holy Church of Winston-Salem and the Forsyth Jail & Prison Ministries, I began a 10-week sabbatical from full-time ministry to rest, be refreshed and revived. It was an exciting prospect, but it was also terrifying at the same time. I would be leaving my pulpit for 10 straight weeks. I would not lead services or minister at the jail or prison for 2 and a half months. What was I supposed to do with all that time?

Well, in preparation for the time away, I spoke with several pastors who had taken sabbaticals from their churches. I read articles and learned that the best thing (at least for me) was to have some sort of plan. A sabbatical is not a vacation to simply lay around the beach for the summer. I wanted this time to mean something. There were things I wanted to accomplish and/or experience spiritually and relationally that would make this time meaningful.

To help with this, I chose a theme for my sabbatical and laid out a tentative 10-week schedule. The theme for my sabbatical was “Reconnection: Reconnecting to my Roots, Relationships and Religion.” I wanted to disconnect from the busyness of my regular life and focus on spending time and energy reconnecting with my God, my family, and ultimately, myself.

In order to accomplish this, I chose to spend the first two weeks of my sabbatical in the country of my birth – The Bahamas. The day after my sabbatical began, I flew to Nassau, Bahamas to spend time reconnecting to my roots as an “island boy.” I spent quality time with my parents, my sister, brother-in-law, and other extended family members. I asked questions of my elders and learned family stories and anecdotes I had previously not known, and I visited places that had meaning from my childhood.

One such place was my childhood church – Golden Gates Assembly. This is the place I was baptized, filled with the Holy Ghost, sang on the choir, and, at the age of 16, preached my first sermon. So, on the first Sunday of my sabbatical, I knew there was only one place I wanted to worship. I wanted to just be a “church member” again and sit and listen to my childhood pastor, Bishop Ros Davis, share the word of the Lord.

I arrived at the service that Sunday intentionally late. I did not let Bishop Davis know I was coming because I just wanted to sit in the congregation and receive. When I arrived, I sat about 8 rows from the front. Bishop Davis came down from the pulpit and asked me to sit with him and the other ministers. At first, I declined, but he would not take no for an answer. I reluctantly obliged, but as soon as I sat down on the pulpit next to him, my childhood pastor turned to me and said, “By the way, you are preaching today!”

I had no plans to preach that Sunday, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, I stood that Sunday, in the pulpit where I preached my first sermon nearly 25 years ago and shared what the Lord laid on my heart. The congregation responded tremendously, and the Lord blessed in a miraculous way! It was an amazing experience to stand in front of people who knew me running around as a 7-year old boy, now witnessing me preach the gospel as a 40-year-old man. While it was not in my plans, I could not have asked for a better way to kick off my sabbatical.

While in The Bahamas, I also enjoyed a few new experiences. I took advantage of several of the tours offered by my sister and brother-in-law’s company (shout out to Marvelous Tours). I went  and even took an excursion to the Exuma islands where I visited the swimming pigs and swam with some nurse sharks (they’re vegetarian). Needless to say, I enjoyed just about every moment of my time in The Bahamas and even got to reconnect with some old friends from high school – many of whom I had not seen in over 20 years.

After two weeks in The Bahamas, I flew back to North Carolina, to see my family, and then we drove to Washington, DC to help celebrate my pastor’s 53rd Pastoral Anniversary. It was an honor to share in such a great occasion as Bishop Alfred Owens celebrated this momentous occasion. Also, on this day, I had the pleasure of releasing my third book – “Power Prayers, Volume II: Prayers that Prevail.” The book was literally completed while I was in The Bahamas and my team worked overtime to have them printed and shipped to meet me in DC. I am so proud that this book is a part of the fruit from my sabbatical.

After DC, I spent a week with my pastor and a few brothers at the Hampton Ministers’ Conference in Hampton, VA. This is one of the premier conferences for preachers in America, and I had not attended in nearly 20 years. It was great to sit and be spiritually fed for a week by some of the world’s greatest communicators of the gospel message. I was challenged, inspired and equipped to be more effective in my own ministry.

I returned from Hampton just in time for my daughter, Zaria’s, 13th birthday. She and I then left for a 5-day Daddy-Daughter Cruise to celebrate. We were blessed by Energize Ministries – a ministry designed to encourage pastors and their families – to go on the Jesus Freak Cruise, featuring concerts from Christian musical acts like DC Talk, Toby Mac, Mandisa and more. The highlight of the trip, however, was that the cruise stopped in Nassau, Bahamas – where I had just been a few weeks earlier.

My family planned a grand celebration for Zaria’s birthday in Nassau. We began our day by volunteering at Great Commission Ministries, a ministry founded by my parents to minister to the poor and disenfranchised. There was a group of people from the cruise ship who helped pack grocery bags for the sick and shut-in, give out clothes, serve meals to the hundreds of people who show up every day, and even begin a construction project to expand the ministry’s kitchen. It was a blessed morning of serving.

After we left Great Commission Ministries, we took Zaria and a group of her cousins for a gourmet meal on the beach (OK, it was KFC) and to the movies to see Aladdin. After the movie, we had a pool party for Zaria at a friend’s house that sits on a beautiful lake. Needless to say, my baby girl had a better 13th birthday than I had for my 30th!

When we returned from our cruise, it was time for me to spend some quality time with my wife, Victoria. I had already taken my son, Zion, to a resort for a weekend – just the two of us, and I had taken Zaria on the cruise, now I planned to have dedicated time with the Mrs. I had asked her earlier in the year where she wanted to go, and her response was Boston. So, we took a trip to Boston where we spent time driving up Cape Cod and fell in love with Plymouth, MA (We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock…Plymouth Rock landed on us!) We also got to spend some time in Boston with some old friends and make some new ones. It was a wonderful time away to reconnect as husband and wife – without the kids!

After Boston, we were home for a few days and also attended our denomination’s jurisdictional convocation in Concord, NC. At the end of the convocation, my family and I packed up our SUV and took off on a planned 3-week road trip across the country. Our first stop was Nashville, TN where we spent the night and then attended worship at Mt. Zion Baptist Church with Bishop Joseph Walker, III – Presiding Bishop of the Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship. Bishop Walker was extremely gracious and hospitable to us, and we got to enjoy lunch with him and his family after service.

We left Nashville that afternoon and drove an hour and a half to Athens, AL to visit my wife’s grandmother. We spent the night with her before getting up the next morning and beginning our civil rights tour through the state of Alabama. We stopped in Birmingham and visited the 16th Street Baptist Church where four little girls lost their lives in a church bombing. We drove to Montgomery and visited the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pastored and led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. We saw the Rosa Parks Museum and Library and the Civil Rights Memorial. From there we drove to Selma and crossed the famed Edmund-Pettis Bridge, the scene of Bloody Sunday, and the starting point of the march from Selma to Montgomery.

After we left the state of Alabama, our next major stop was in New Orleans, LA, where we enjoyed great food and culture. From New Orleans we made it to Houston, where we spent the 4th of July with my best friend, Bishop Paul Hardin, and his family. We had such a good time in Houston that we decided to stay for a few days. While there, two major earthquakes hit the West Coast, and it was clear that my family was no longer interested in driving all the way to California.

We decided to drive to Dallas to attend service at the Potter’s House with Bishop T. D. Jakes, who was gracious enough to invite us to a luncheon after service for their new associate pastors who were installed that day. We were blessed to meet some amazing people in ministry and spend a few fleeting moments with Bishop and Lady Jakes. It was an awesome experience.

From Dallas, we started making our way back east. We drove to Shreveport, LA, where we spent the night before getting up early and making our way through Arkansas. We stopped in Texarkana, which sits on the state line dividing Texas and Arkansas. We then visited Little Rock, AR and Central High School where the Little Rock Nine integrated in 1957 amid much racial tension and hatred. Our next stop was Memphis, TN, where we made the sobering trip to the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot and killed. While in Memphis, we also ate some good Memphis BBQ on Beale Street and stayed at the Guesthouse at Graceland – right next to Elvis’ mansion.

After Memphis, we made our way back to Nashville to get some more Nashville hot chicken before making it to our penultimate stop – Pigeon Forge, TN. In Pigeon Forge, we ate at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen and enjoyed the many festivities and attractions the area provides.

Finally, after 12 days, 7 states, 16 cities, and nearly 3,000 miles…we made it back home! The trip was shorter than we expected (thanks, earthquakes) but it was enriching, nonetheless. We made memories that will, hopefully, last a lifetime.

While I was at first disappointed that we did not make it further west, it was great to be home and in my own bed for a few days…before our next (and final) trip of the summer – to Atlanta, GA for our denomination’s annual youth and young adult conference. Our kids were blessed by the ministry and activities of the conference that week, and so were we. However, while I had done a lot during my sabbatical and reconnected a great deal with my roots and relationships, there was still something missing for me, personally, in the area of my religion.

So, I decided to spend a weekend at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit just outside of Atlanta with a group of monks who live in silence most of the day – except for the seven times a day they gather for prayer in the Abbey to chant through the psalms. I had done a few silent retreats the past few years at a retreat center, but this was my first time actually spending time in a monastery (although my high school in the Bahamas was run by Benedictine monks who lived in a monastery on a hill above the campus).

As a Pentecostal preacher, I am not often surrounded by silence in a worship setting, so these silent retreats are a great way for me to sit and listen to the voice of God. This retreat was no different. In fact, it gave me a deeper appreciation for the psalms and for the daily discipline of these monks who pray through the psalms SEVEN times every day! Their inspiration is Psalm 119:164 where David says, “Seven times a day do I praise you.”

The first prayer is at 4am, it is called Vigils and lasts for about an hour. The monks pray again at 7am (Lauds), 9am (Terce, or 3rd hour), Mid-day (Sext, or 6th hour), 3pm (None, or 9th hour), 5pm (Vespers), and at 7pm (Compline, or final hour). It is a very regimented spiritual exercise, and it is one that I enjoyed experiencing. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that even after returning home, I spent the last week of my sabbatical keeping the same schedule (to the best of my ability) with the monks.

I enjoyed waking up at 4am and starting my day by praying through the psalms. There is no better way that I can think of spending the final week of my sabbatical at home than continuing the spiritual discipline of monastic prayer, while also enjoying time with my family as I prepared to go back to the rigors of a life of ministry. While I may not be able to take off another 10 weeks to rest, I have learned enough during these 10 weeks to implement rest and self-care into my daily routine. That is the true gift of my sabbatical.

I want to truly again thank the leadership of Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministries for offering me the opportunity for this 10-week sabbatical during my 10th year of ministry at the jail and prison, and I thank the leadership and membership of Mt. Calvary Holy Church of Winston-Salem for allowing your pastor to be gone for 10 whole weeks. It is a testament to the strength of the congregation and the team of leaders who prove every day that ministry is no one-man show. Most of all, I have to thank my wife, Dr. Victoria Hanchell, and my children, Zaria and Zion, who had to make the sacrifice of being without their husband and father, often for days and even weeks at a time, as I reconnected with my roots, relationships and religion. This sabbatical would not be possible without your willingness to allow me to do it. I am forever grateful, and I pray that you all would receive a better pastor, chaplain, husband, and father through this experience.

+Tejado W. Hanchell

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