Study Leave at Duke Divinity School


As a wellness advocate, I chat with pastors daily.  And if I consistently hear longing in my pastors’ voices, it’s when the topic of study and reflection come up. The short of it is that it is hard to make time for study and reflection amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy church, where people and tasks are literally or metaphorically knocking on the door all day long. And yet, most pastors also recognize that time for study and reflection is crucial for gaining insight and cultivating growth in their own lives.

Did you know, though, that Duke Divinity School has a program to support that very discipline? It’s called Study Leave for Ministry Professionals. And Spirited Life participants can attend for practically nothing!

Here’s a succinct description of Study Leave from the program’s website:

Over the span of five days, participants can immerse themselves in learning and renewal through self-directed study, worship and prayer on the Duke University campus. This flexible program is designed for Christian institutional leaders, pastors, program staff, and laity, and can cost as little as $100. You select the study topic. We provide all the resources you’ll need to make your week as productive as possible.

Our Spirited Life staff recently met with Gretchen Ziegenhals and Marsá McNutt, who run this program at the Divinity School, and here was my takeaway:

You can spend five days at Duke Divinity School to study whatever you want with your meals basically covered and housing completely covered. It counts for Continuing Ed credit and you don’t have to have your study topic nailed down before you come; you just need a general idea and can even shift focus if something interesting comes up during the week. You can arrange to be there alone or coordinate time there with friends.

Spirited Life participants are eligible for a hefty scholarship to attend Study Leave because we think it can be an incredible opportunity for renewal.  You’re eligible for this scholarship starting in your second year of the wellness program (see the table below).  But even if you’re not eligible yet (or you’re not part of Spirited Life), Study Leave always offers scholarships for pastors serving rural churches eligible for grants from The Duke Endowment as well as a limited number of scholarships for non-rural WNCC clergy.

The scholarship cuts the program costs from $650 to $100 (and you get $75 of that back on a card to use for meals/books/gym access.)

If you have questions, feel free to contact your wellness advocate or the program’s coordinators listed on the Study Leave website. This could be just the respite you need.

-Joel Decker

Taking a break from Course of Study


This is my first summer living in Durham (my family moved here from New Hampshire last August for my husband to attend Divinity School), and one thing that I’ve noticed is that Duke is never a dull place!  In July, the Summer Course of Study is in full swing here, keeping pastors from all over the country quite busy with a full schedule of lectures, discussion and homework.

We at the Clergy Health Initiative thought it would be fun to provide a study break for the Spirited Life participants taking part in Course of Study.  And sure enough: hot coffee, healthy snacks and great conversation made for a wonderful time.

As a wellness advocate, I will say that I thoroughly enjoy my phone conversations with the pastors I work with, but nothing replaces the chance to catch up in person.  We enjoyed hearing about what the pastors are reading and discussing in their courses and the ups and downs of being away from their families and congregations for a month. (One pastor admitted to me that he thought his lay speakers were thrilled to have the chance to preach, but he didn’t think the congregation was quite as “thrilled”!)

The time also served as a great opportunity for our team to answer questions about the Spirited Life program.  A number of Group 3 pastors were there — these are participants who won’t begin our wellness program until 2013, so their contact with Spirited Life has been limited to health screenings and surveys.  It was great to talk with them about what they hope to get out of the program, and assure them that yes, their turn was coming!

All in all, it was a pleasant way to spend part of a (hot!) afternoon, and we owe a big thank you to all the pastors who stopped by!  My fellow staff members and I are pretty excited about our program, but it is always a blessing to be received with enthusiasm and generosity by the people we seek to serve.  The welcome that we have gotten from clergy across the state is truly one of the things that makes me feel lucky to be doing this work!

Summary and images by Caren Swanson