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A Pause from Cutting Christmas Trees

There once was a young man who was hired, just around this time of year, by a Christmas tree farm. It was his job to go out with the customers, to find the tree that they liked best, and to take his axe and cut the tree down so that the folks could take it home. It was hard work, but he liked it, and after his first day on the job, the owner of the farm complimented the young man on how well he was taking to the work. It seemed he was the best tree-chopper they’d ever had.

But that first day led to a second and a third, and soon it had been almost a whole week, and the young woodsman was losing ground. He was taking longer and longer to help each set of customers. A line started forming, and then began to back up. Folks coming to buy their Christmas trees could see what a wait there was, and soon they figured out they could head a little further down the road to the next farm of Spruce and Scots Pine. By the end of the day, the owner had all-but made up his mind to send the new hire home for good – things just didn’t seem to be working out with him.

“Son,” he said, “I’m sorry. You were my best worker when you started on Sunday, but it seems like every day since you’ve taken longer and longer to cut fewer and fewer trees. I’m gonna have to let you go.”

“Sir, I don’t know what it is. I show up early, I leave late. I work through lunch, I skip my breaks, but it seems like my chopping just gets worse and not better.”

The owner thought for a moment and asked, “How often have you been stopping to sharpen that axe of yours? Every five trees you cut? Every ten?”

The tree-cutter shook his head. “Oh no, sir. Like I said, I haven’t taken any time off from cutting these trees – not even to sharpen my axe.”

Intellectually, I suspect we all know what the tree-cutter in the story seems not to: that work without rest, or even the time to hone and look after our tools, only gets us farther from our goal, and not closer to it. But what we know in our minds isn’t always easy to practice with our lives. Which is why it’s so important, from time to time, to pause, and reflect, and look after the work of rest (and restoration) we may have neglected in our rush to get things done.

In a month, I’m going to be taking some time to do just that. First Parish follows the practice, common throughout Unitarian Universalism, of a ministerial sabbatical: a time for a minister to step away from the normal work of ministry, to renew and refresh, study and rest. In making that mutual commitment five and a half years ago – that the time would be offered and that I would take it when offered – we were making a values statement together. That part of any work worth doing is the rest that nurtures and sustains that work. It’s rare, in our culture, that we honor that truth. The opportunity of having a sabbatical is a privilege all-too-few people receive. I’m grateful for this time that the congregation is making it possible for me to take.

My sabbatical will begin in one month, on January 1st, and run through the end of April. During that time I’ll be reading, writing, traveling, and resting, and in particular spending more time with my family, whose love and support makes it possible for me to do the work I do. I will return twice in March for Sunday the 6th (the day we consecrate our financial pledges to support the congregation for another year), and Sunday the 27th (Easter Sunday). Other than that, you won’t see me again until May 1st. In my absence, the joyful work of being a church together will continue: the Music and Worship committee and I have arranged a variety of engaging and soulful worship experiences led by members of First Parish and some of my colleagues in the area. The Pastoral Care committee will be stepping up its work to help us care for one another, and we will also have an area minister on-call in case of a major trauma or crisis (more details on this will be included in January’s Chalice). For now, I look forward to celebrating the holiday season with you, and when I do leave for my time away, I expect that you all will continue to work and search and grow as the welcoming, creative, and committed congregation that I have come to know you to be over the last five and a half years.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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