The Back Story…

Cast Your Net is an experiment…that keeps on changing.

I am a pastor of a smaller urban Presbyterian Church (USA) in Pittsburgh, PA USA.   It is, in my mind, the best congregation in the world.  I’ve been their pastor since 1993.  In 2010, We were awarded a fantastic grant from the Lilly Endowments which provided us (both the congregation and pastor) with a sabbatical.  I was free to travel the world with my wife and daughter for four months, and the church was free to engage another pastoral voice and presence.


The good people at Lilly suggested that I begin a blog as a means of keeping the congregation informed.  I found that I loved the discipline of writing – so much so that when I came back, I couldn’t stop.  Now, mostly, it’s my sermons.  But if I go away, I’ll use the blog to try to get folks thinking about what I’m thinking about.  And if something comes to mind, chances are that I’ll put something about that here, too.
Thanks for asking.


Below is the press release from Lilly in 2010.



The First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights has received a grant of $45,500 to enable its minister, Pastor Dave Carver, to participate in the 2009 National Clergy Renewal Program funded by the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. It is one of 149 congregations across the country that will support their ministers in the program, which allows pastors to step back from their busy lives to renew their spirits for the benefit of their ongoing ministries.

Now in its 10th year, the program invites Christian congregations and ministers to plan a period of intentional reflection and renewal. It provides a time for ministers to take a break from their daily obligations and gain the fresh perspective and renewed energy that a carefully considered “sabbath time” of travel, study, rest and prayer can provide.

Each congregation is eligible to apply for a grant of up to $50,000. Up to $15,000 of that amount can be used to fulfill pastoral duties during the minister’s absence and for expenses related to the congregation’s own renewal. The 149 grants this year total $6.2 million.

The Lilly Endowment asks pastors a simple question: “What will make your heart sing?”  The hope is that spending time engaged in activities about which one is passionate will then invigorate the pastor, the congregation, and the community.  The application submitted by Pastor Carver and the Crafton Heights Church is entitled “The Fisherman’s Jubilee”, and it connects two themes in the pastor’s life.  First, both Pastor Dave and his wife, Sharon, will celebrate their fiftieth birthdays in 2010.  They have long hoped that this year might mark a “jubilee” for them – a time of celebration that will be an encouragement not only to them, but to others around the world.  Pastor Carver’s answer to the Endowment’s question is that time spent on or near the water, particularly fishing, is what makes his heart sing.

Pastor Carver’s sabbatical includes three phases, each centering on a different body of water.  In July 2010, the Carvers and their daughter, Ariel, will travel to Santiago, Chile, to be reunited with an exchange student who lived with them for a year.  Mandy Arriagada Dolz lived in Crafton Heights and attended Schenley High School, graduating in 2004.  The Carvers will stay with the Dolz family and visit fishing villages in the Pacific town of Valparaiso.  A side excursion to Peru will permit them to study the health of the Amazon basin, where Pastor Dave will be able to fish with local villagers in one of the tributaries to the Amazon.  This leg of the journey will end up with a visit to the Incan ruins at Machu Piccu.

The second phase of the sabbatical will be right here in Pennsylvania.  Pastor Carver is will be experiencing life on a houseboat for several weeks in August.  From this vantage point in Raystown Lake (Huntington County), the family and their guests will be able to celebrate the beauty of God’s creation and explore conversations and relationships at a very relaxed pace.

The sabbatical will end when Pastor Carver and his daughter Ariel (a 2010 graduate from Wilson College with a B.A. in Religion) undertake a trip to the Middle East, spending time on the water along the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret), the Jordan River, the Red Sea, and the Nile.  The experience will end in October 2010 when the Carvers rejoin the congregation on an all-church retreat.

While Pastor Carver is away, the Endowment will pay for a replacement pastor to tend to the congregation.  Melissa Shaughnessy, a 2010 graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, has been called as Temporary Supply Pastor, and she will lead worship, provide congregational care, and moderate the session as they seek to help the congregation implement a process of self-study and structural change that has been nearly five years in the making.

This year’s grantees include congregations in 36 states. Almost two-thirds of them see between 100 and 300 at Sunday worship services. Twelve congregations have more than 1,000 at worship. The group of pastors counts 40 women, four of them members of clergy couples.

The 2009 class of grantees brings to 1,290 the number of congregations that have received clergy renewal grants since 2000. “We have heard wonderful stories from the pastors who already have experienced their sabbaticals,” said Craig Dykstra, Endowment senior vice president for religion. “Their time away has freed them up to pursue personal interests and needs in ways that have given them new energy for ministry – and their congregations have discovered that they didn’t fall apart without their minister around. Indeed, they too experienced refreshment and a new-found sense of their own strengths.”

The Endowment’s larger goal is to bolster the good work that America’s pastors and congregations accomplish day in and day out and to reinforce and build upon important work being done on both sides of the pulpit. “In our religion grantmaking, we hope to strengthen the efforts of today’s excellent pastors because it is no secret that pastors who have reconnected themselves to the passions that led them to the ministry in the first place are more likely to lead healthy and vibrant congregations,” Dykstra said.

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