Therefore, there must still be a rest reserved for God’s people—the Sabbath rest.
For all those who enter God’s rest also rest from their own work, just as God did.
~ Hebrews 4:9-10


Our Lead Pastor Rev. Sharon Benton will take a three-month sabbatical from May 8-August 7
with a week of vacation at the beginning and end.


Lead Pastor Rev. Sharon A. Benton

Visiting Pastor Rev. Phiwa Langeni

who I’m from, who I am, who I’m called to be ...


The connection between the Divine and family has always been Biblical for the, a tangible “the God of your ancestors …” Long intrigued by the mystery of my Jewish ancestry I find I must remove my shoes on the holy ground of their experiences.


During sabbatical I will seek spiritual renewal through connections with place, family, and faith/cultural tradition which help me hear God’s voice claiming me: “I am your God.” I’ll explore my long-hidden Jewish heritage, worship in that tradition, and rest in places of my family’s origin.


Pastor Phiwa (Pronounced PEE-wah) is an ordained United Church of Christ minister and the Ambassador for Innovation and Engagement for the National UCC. They also work as a speaker, a coach for organizations, and a writer for the Still Speaking Writer’s Group.


Originally from South Africa and having been an outsider for the bulk of their life, Pastor Phiwa is a passionate about helping people understand that different doesn’t have to be dangerous. Their pronouns are they and he.


As a part of their tenure among us, Pastor Phiwa will support our visioning to “collaboratively (re) envision tangible ways of ‘welcoming all, growing in faith, living God’s love, justice, compassion …” authentically as we reflect on who we are now and who we’re called to be as a congregation.


What Is a Sabbatical?

The word “sabbatical” has its roots in the biblical concept of Sabbath. Sabbath-keeping is setting aside time that God consecrates and makes holy.


Sabbatical leave is a time for our pastor to shift gears in order to rest, disengage, reflect, and travel in order to return to minister among us refreshed and renewed in body, mind, and spirit. This special time will also be a time of reflection for the entire congregation.


Part of our sabbatical commitment to Pastor Sharon means we will not contact her via phone, email, texts, or other communications (like social media) so she may focus on renewal.

Our Mission During Sabbatical

looking back …

looking at now …

looking forward …


All of our ministries will continue while Sharon is away, and new vision will begin. This is sabbath renewal for us, as well!


While Pastor Sharon is traveling, studying, and growing, we’ll also be growing together here in Bellingham. The themes of Sharon’s sabbatical will have parallel themes that we’ll gather around here. In May, we’ll look at “Family History”- what are the ways our family, racial, ethnic, and cultural heritage shape us? How can we be informed by these traditions, and how can we wrestle with the challenging aspects of them?


In June, we’ll talk about “Faith History”- all the many religious and ethical traditions that we bring with us to First Congregational Church of Bellingham.  How does the blending and interweaving of those traditions create what we are now and draw us to what’s next?


And in July, we’ll talk about “Church History”- what parts of our congregation’s story can guide us in the coming years?  What parts do we need to honor and reckon with?  And how do we continue to move from church history into church future?


We’ll have congregational events, art installations, and more creative opportunities as we share this journey together, and as we look forward to celebrating together when Pastor Sharon comes back home!

Save the Dates

Sunday, April 24

Service sending Pastor Sharon on her way

Sunday, May 8

Welcome Pastor Phiwa, Visiting Pastor

Sunday, August 21

Service welcoming Pastor Sharon back


Who to contact for things you might typically contact Sharon about:

  • Pastoral Care = Pastor Davi or the 24-hour pastoral care line; Stephen Ministers will also be available after worship on some Sundays May-August
  • Worship = in general, Pastor Davi or Pastor Phiwa (or, as usual, for prep work = Cydne Cochran, for Time with Children info = Ted or Susan Huffman, for music = Lucy Bledig)
  • Board Work = Ministry Area Coordinator for that board connects with the Leadership Team—please remain in close communication with MACs and church office
  • Visioning = Leadership Team
  • Staffing = direct to the individual staff person or to Personnel Committee, if needed
  • Other questions = Cydne Cochran