Bishop's Sabbatical Report

The Rev. Craig Alan Satterlee, PhD, Bishop 

Dates of Sabbatical:         1 July-25 September 2018. 

I thank the Synod Council on behalf of the Synod for granting me a sabbatical leave. Receiving a sabbatical is a gift and privilege that both Cathy and I cherished and are very grateful for. I thank the Synod staff, deans, congregations and their leaders, and in particular ways the three assistants to the bishop, the vice president and synod attorney, for faithfully carrying on the work of the synod during my absence.

 Luke tells us that Jesus would withdraw to deserted places and pray” (Luke 5:16). Ronald Heifetz, who teaches leadership at Harvard, argues for the necessity of stepping off the dance floor and going up to the balcony.[1]The only way you can gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing yourself from the fray.” The sabbatical was a wonderful time in the deserted place with Jesus and observing the dance of my life, the dance of the world, and the dance of our synod from the balcony. Heifetz continues, “If you want to affect what is happening, you must return to the dance floor." Leaders need to be both among the dancers and up on the balcony. That’s where the magic is, going back and forth between the two, using one to leverage the other. Jesus knew this. I learned it again. Perhaps my biggest learning of the sabbatical is to be more deliberate in exiting the dance floor and retreating to the balcony to gain perspective on the dance.


In July, Daughter Chelsey and I took a Christian tour of England together. We visited cathedrals and pubs in London, Salisbury, Canterbury, Oxford, Bath, Whales, and York. We participated in Eucharist and evensong. For me, the greatest blessing was making the trip with Chelsey. I will bring a picture book for any who would like to see it. 

In August, I went on retreat in the Apostle Islands with Pastor Drew Gangle. Pastor Gangle, who served as chaplain at my installation, is a chaplain and captains his own sailboat. We spent the week in prayer, enjoying good food and rich conversation, and sailing Lake Superior. I expect to make this an annual retreat.

In September, my family and I spent a week in Florida, including a trip to Walt Disney World for my birthday. Cathy and I also spent a weekend at Notre Dame, where I preached at the Eucharist held in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the ordination of Pastor Max Johnson, who was one of my teachers at Notre Dame. I also spent a day at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, and participated in the memorial service for founding president Fred Meuser, who was one of my mentors.

Cathy and I spent much of the time at our cabin in northern Michigan. We enjoyed being in the water and on our boat, hosting an 85th birthday party for my mother, and landscaping our yard. We have been remodeling our cabin since 2013 and the project is now complete.


       Sarah Holland read to me the book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire by Alan Kreider. Kreider demonstrates from patristic sources that the church of the first three centuries was more concerned with teaching a Christian habitus or way of being than with evangelism and growth. It trusted that the Holy Spirit is active in the church and the world in ways akin to a fermentation process, and so the church cultivated a spirit of patience as we wait for the fullness of God’s reign. This way of being rather than programs resulted in the church’s unlikely growth in the first three centuries. I highly recommend this book. I recommended it to the Conference of Bishops; several of us are reading it and will discuss it at our fall meeting.

            Alas, although Kreider’s book is much more scholarly than anything I could write these days–for hard-core scholarship see my book on St. Ambrose–he names the hunches that comprise the book I was writing in 2013 when the Holy Spirit through the church called me to this office. So I did not return to the book on the changing church I was s supposed to write during sabbatical scheduled for the last half of 2013. Instead, in light of the budget conversation we had at synod assembly, a budget committee conference call I participated in just prior to sabbatical, and the gap between mission support and expenses, I spent a lot of time thinking about money and the varying assumptions that seem to be running in the background of our budget process. I look forward to sharing a paper on the subject with you when it is ready.


            I intentionally took up the disciplines of diet and exercise and this became the primary emphasis of the sabbatical. I lost 25 pounds. My blood pressure, which runs high in my family, is normal. As of September 20, I walked 484 miles since July 1–with five days left to reach my goal of 500 miles. I realize that walking independently, as I did in Chicago, is the most significant thing I gave up to respond to this call. I will need to incorporate 70 to 90 minutes a day into my schedule for the exercise that comes from walking. In addition to my spiritual health, during the sabbatical, I also spent time in conversation with both a pastor and chaplain for my spiritual health, therapist for my mental/emotional health, and coach for vocational health, and colleague bishops for best practices on this very unique ministry.

I gave prayerful attention and discernment to our 2019 bishop election and my hopes for a second term. Much of that reflection is encapsulated in my report under the headings of sustainability, partnerships, and mission support. I came to a deeper appreciation for how much I value this call, living in Michigan, and the relationships Cathy and I have formed over these five years. I deepened my conviction that the Holy Spirit called me through the church to serve as bishop of this synod. Words from Isaiah read at both my bishop formation event and my installation, which a friend reminded me of this summer, grow deeper in their meaning: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:1-4). And I am increasingly at peace that the Holy Spirit through our synod gathered in assembly may or may not renew my call to serve as bishop, although I certainly hope the Spirit will. Bishops who have gone through the process a second time advise but this is the spiritual place to be.

[1] Heifetz, R., and Linsky, M. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

`© 2006 Craig A. Satterlee ● North/West Lower Michigan Synod ELCA ● 2900 N. Waverly Rd. ● Lansing MI 48906 ● 517-321-5066