Bishop Hougland’s Message to the Diocese Post-Sabbatical

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The following is a transcript of this video message:

Hi, Western Michigan. Whayne Hougland here. I’m back!

I wanted to take a few moments to say thank you. Thank you for the great generosity and the great gift that you gave Dana and I to have this time away – to take a step back to reconnect with each other and to rest and to explore some of the world. And we just can’t thank you enough for the great gift. It is a rare opportunity to do this, and I don’t take it lightly. And I just want you to know how much I really do appreciate it.

So, what did we do? We flew out of here on the first of May. We flew to Italy, and spent time in the great cities of Italy: Venice and Florence, Siena, Assisi, Rome, and also some time down in the southern coast of Amalfi and got to see Positano and Mount Vesuvius. Saw the Vatican and went to the Uffizi museum in Florence and countless churches in the countryside of Tuscany. It really is beautiful. That was a great gift.

And then from there we went on to Spain and met my parents and spent some time in and around Madrid.

And then we flew up north to the Basque country which is where my grandparents are from. We spent one of the best days in the little village of Natxitua where my grandfather was born. It’s on the very northern coast of Spain. Can’t be more than a couple dozen buildings in this little community. We went to lunch that day at the only restaurant in town and we got to talking with the owner of the restaurant. My mother said, “I’m an Astoreca from here,” and so the owner got on the phone and started calling people. And some folks came to have lunch with us, and it was really wonderfully touching and moving. It was really just a great experience.

And then from there we travelled a little bit on the Camino de Santiago. We drove – I didn’t walk this time. I got to show Dana some of the sights that I had toured nine years ago when I made my pilgrimage to Santiago. We spent some time in Portugal and then back in Spain, southern Spain through Seville and Granada. And then we left out of Barcelona.

I’ve never eaten so much pasta and drank so much red wine. It was really great. And I didn’t gain too much weight either. We had a really wonderful time.

Along the way, we sold our house in North Carolina – yay! – after almost six years now. So that was a great burden that’s been lifted.

And when we came in July, we had to move from our house that we’ve been renting here in Grand Rapids. We moved from our five-bedroom home to a one-bedroom apartment. And we did that intentionally because we decided that we needed to let go of some stuff that we’ve been holding on to for too long. We spent almost three weeks, probably more than three weeks, trying to sort through 35 years of marriage and raising two children and figuring out what is essential and what is not.

You may know Marie Kondo. She’s a Japanese organizational consultant. She has this way of looking at your stuff and determining whether you should keep it or not by saying, “Does this bring you joy or not?”

So, we spent a lot of time trying to determine what brings us joy. And we ended up giving away a lot of stuff. Most of our furniture, most of our clothes, just about all of our children’s art projects… I mean, you know how it is. So, we had to sort through all that stuff, and it was really hard. It was super emotional, and it was also kind of freeing.

And I think if there’s been a theme that’s been emerging for me as I’ve been reflecting on what this sabbatical has been, it’s that taking the time to assess where you find joy in life and what are the things that bring you joy. It’s a great way to sift through all the stuff and get to what is essential. And letting go of those things that are not essential, what I’ve found is you really do find space for what’s new. I think what God was doing with meanyway in this sabbatical was trying to clear out space so that I might be ready and open for what is new.

And so, we’re back now. This is my first week back in the office. Got a lot of stuff coming up on the agenda moving forward. And it’s a lot of hopeful and exciting, for some, maybe anxious kind of things. But I think that in the spirit of trying to find our joy and trying to determine what is essential and seeking to be open to what God is giving us, there’s a lot of hope for the future.

You’ve probably seen that two of our staff members have resigned. First of all, Gennie Callard, who has done a really wonderful job for many, many years has decided to resign and move back closer to family in Massachusetts. And I really respect her and honor her for her work here and the way she is moving forward to care for her family. Thank you, Gennie, for all the good work that you’ve done. You’ve been a real blessing, and you’ll be missed.

And Tricia, who’s only been here for a short time as my assistant, just got an offer she couldn’t refuse from her home denomination to serve on the leadership team of the primary authority for that denomination. It’s like working for Michael Curry, our Presiding Bishop. And so she said she just couldn’t pass it up. We thank her also for the good work that she’s done here in helping us transition to new offices. And we wish her well, wish them both well and God bless.

We will miss them. But I think it’s also an opportunity for us to reassess and to reconsider how we’ve done things and how we might do things fresh and that’s quite hopeful.

Coming up almost immediately – this weekend as a matter of fact – we’ll begin our pre-convention meetings to discuss budget and plans for our convention in November. We’re going to start dancing intentionally real close now with the Diocese of Eastern Michigan as we move forward with that relationship and see what exciting things are in store there.

And so I’m really looking forward to being here. And I’m really glad to be back. I found that not being so busy wasn’t so good. I prefer being busy, and so I’m glad to be back with you.

I hope you’re well. Hope you’ve had a good summer. I’m looking forward to the fall and an exciting new year coming up as we approach convention. And I look forward to seeing you out there.

God bless and thanks.