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It is common practice for Unitarian Universalist ministers and their congregations to include in our Letter of Agreement (contract) provision for a sabbatical every five to seven years, accrued at a rate of one month per year, for up to six months. I’m in my ninth year of service with the UU Fellowship at Stony Brook and last year, finally, I felt the time was right to take a sabbatical. So last winter, January through March, I left my congregation to it’s own good governance, with guest coverage for every service I would have led, and emergency pastoral care coverage by various other UU ministers on our island through an exchange program we formed just for that purpose. I had two aims for the use of my time: a combo solo (with spouse) and group-tour trek down the National and State(s) Civil Rights Trail in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama, and a deep immersion into Jewish studies. 

In my pursuit of the dive into Judaism, I joined North Shore Jewish Center’s (NSJC) sixteen week Judaism 101 class, studied Hebrew using a four-volume adult self-study course, did some Israeli dancing with my spouse, attended Shabbat services, and read a bunch of books about Judaism and Israel. I am proud to say that I can now read Hebrew—imperfectly, but well enough to follow the prayers in their original language. And I am so deeply grateful for the kindness and welcome showed to me by my interfaith colleagues at Temple Isaiah and NSJC and members of their congregations. 

This coming spring, March through May, I’ll be taking the second leg of my sabbatical, an immersion into Islam. In March, Linda and I will be traveling to Morocco on a 10-day tour organized and led by Omid Safi, Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University. In preparation for that trip, I have already joined a small group of Muslim women who gather weekly at the Selden Masjid (Islamic Association of Long Island) to learn Arabic and the fundamentals of Islam. And what a warm welcome I have received: unquestioning inclusion and generous, heartfelt sharing, encouragement, and support in learning from skilled teachers and ready learners alike, not to mention snacks fresh from an Egyptian bakery! 

This is the world I want to live in: a world of open-armed welcome and generous cultural and religious interchange. A smarter world. A better world. A peaceful world. A loving world. 

Rev. Margie Allen, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook


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