After nearly 40 years of ministry, a veteran clergyman looks expectantly to a long and refreshing rest.

Oh, but hardly in retirement.

No, the Rev. Virgil Clotfelter eyes a 15-week sabbatical so eclectic next year that he will explore family roots in Switzerland, get a fresh perspective on the Old Testament with time in Egypt (“thinking of how Joseph dealt with his challenges”), and even catch a NASCAR race in Michigan.

The multi-faceted $50,000 getaway grant project is all part of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations.

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The effort encourages congregations to partner with their veteran ministers to find ways to address their need for renewal amid the often-stressful work of the ministry. The program especially encourages clergy to include their family and some measure of sheer fun in time away, especially since many ministers acknowledge that church work often takes them away from family activities.

“There’s a lot more information today coming out of now from seminars and conferences advising that ministers had better take care of themselves,” said Clotfelter, the associate minister for the past two-and-a-half years at Ogilville Christian Church. “There’s a better awareness today of how tough the ministry sometimes can be.”

The 62-year-old Clotfelter never says that. But he believes in the biblical idea of rest, and aims to return to his work more energetic than ever.

The Rev. Martin Wright, the Ogilville Christian senior minister who has enjoyed two Lilly sabbaticals and who encouraged Clotfelter to apply to the program, is glad to see his ministerial associate get a chance to find renewal.

“Virgil is an integral part of Ogilville Christian Church’s growth in attendance, giving and outreach,” Wright said. “He has been a tremendous blessing to our community.”

Clotfelter recently sat in his office at the church at 7891 W. County Road 450S and talked of his plans.

How did you come up with your ideas for your sabbatical?

They tell you in the application process to dream about what would make your heart sing.

Since the sabbatical program in part is meant to help clergy avoid burnout, have you ever experienced elements of that?

Oh, there have been brief moments. But not long periods.

How do you view rest in light of your calling and profession?

The Bible clearly includes the idea of a Sabbath rest. And rest in general is very biblical. If even God himself needed some form of it (at creation), then how much must we need it?

Your getaway will include plenty of travel. In your past excursions, what has been one stop or site that affected you significantly?

One of my most spiritual moments was sitting at that great big statue at the Lincoln Memorial (in Washington, D.C.) and reading the Gettsyburg Address.

You will visit the site of crash of United Flight 93 in the Pennsylvania countryside. Why that stop?

I just stand amazed that there were people (on 9/11) who agreed to surely go to their death in order to save the life of others. Scripture reminds us that no greater love has any man than he who lays down his life for that of a friend.

You are also visiting Christian missions in Mexico that you helped launch for the past 28 years and taking leaders to the beach?

(Wife) Dorri and I get to offer them a blessing. It’s our way of saying to them after all these years, ‘You deserve this.’ And we never could something like that without this grant.

You’re also visiting the Swiss Alps?

I’ve had a desire in me for a while to see where my family name came from. I used to think it was German.

And of course, I’d like to see the Alps. That’s a bit of a boyhood dream.

How will you feel about coming back after so much fun and relaxation?

(Pastor) Marty (Wright) says re-entry is probably the hardest part. But I will come back with a heart full of song.

About the Rev. Virgil Clotfelter

Position: Associate minister of Ogilville Christian Church, where a primarily role has been teaching Sunday School classes.

Age: 62.

Years of ordained ministry: 39, with 36 of that being at Garden City Church of Christ locally.

Family: Wife Dorri. Grown sons McClain and Alex. One granddaughter.

Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program

  • Administered by Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.
  • Established in 1999, it encourages clergy to make time for rest and rujevenation, and makes funds available for congregations to have fill-in speakers and such while ministers are gone.
  • More than 2,300 congregations have participated in the program since it went national in 2000.
  • Information: cpx.cts.edu/renewal or email to clergyrenewal@cts.edu
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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.