God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 4:19


Hanging out with singer-songwriter, Johnny Mercer in Savannah’s Ellis Square.

Dear Friends:

I pray that you are having a restful and restorative summer, and that all is well back at the Old Stone Church and in the great city of Cleveland, Ohio! As you are aware, I’ve been off campus on sabbatical since May 15 experiencing some restorative time of my own. That doesn’t mean I’ve been on vacation, though. In fact, I’ve been very busy doing some of the sorts of things that are reinvigorating my thoughts and my spirit for my ministry among you. Here’s the “dirty” details and more photos!

May 15 – June 30: A Writer Writes
During the first six and a half weeks I was in Savannah, Georgia attending the 26th Congress on New Urbanism. I was also writing the beginnings of what I hope will become a new book about the last ten years in Cleveland. At least one or two chapters, of course, will be focused on our beloved Old Stone Church, its esteemed history, and its love for Christ and commitment to the city.

It was helpful for me to be writing in Savannah. There is something about that wonderful low country city – the beauty of its natural environment, its rich history, or perhaps its reasonable pace,  that has inspired many writers along the way, from poet Conrad Aiken and songwriter Johnny Mercer to historic novelist, John Berendt who wrote Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.


93 degrees and only 12 miles to go! (McQueen’s Island Trail, Savannah)

And Walker Walks!
Savannah was also a good place to do some training to prepare to walk roughly 360 miles of the northern route of the Camino de Santiago in Spain this coming August. Most days in Savannah I walked six miles, but I also walked a couple of 9-mile hikes and even a 12-mile hike in some muddy and always very hot and humid weather! I’m learning to drink a lot of water and, thanks to some great advice from Dr. Bob Heath in our congregation, also keep my electrolytes up! I’ve also been reading some great books along the way – some for pleasure and one or two that I will suggest that the leadership at Old Stone read together this coming year.

July 1 – July 31
Throughout the month of July, I’ve continued to find a meditative solace in my times of writing whether I was in front of my computer at my mother’s place or hiding out in the back of a coffee shop somewhere. I’ve now written about a hundred solid pages of my book and, additionally, have filed a bunch of other scraps to be used here and there in later chapters. I still have lots of writing to do, though; your good thoughts and prayers are dearly appreciated!


Like richly colored flowers blooming in a hot, dry place, God’s grace is a wonderful and surprising gift (Savannah’s “rails to trails” McQueen’s Island Trail).

For Reflection: Gifts of Grace Abound
I began ministry thirty years ago in a little congregation called St. Andrew’s United Church in the Ottawa River town of Chalk River, Ontario. This past July, while worshipping in my mother’s home church, I bumped into a woman named Isabel who was a member of that little church in Chalk River. What a joy it was to see her after all of these years!

Today, Isabel is a very healthy 92 years young. She was excited to tell me that she was going camping the following week. I asked her if she would be sleeping in a cabin or perhaps a trailer. Isabel grinned with a delightful ear to ear smile and said, “No. I’m sleeping on a cot in a tent!” Isabel’s spirit is just as delightful and contagious as her smile.

When I asked her what the congregation of St. Andrew’s was thinking all those years ago when they let me, a 24-year-old kid preach in their pulpit week after week, Isabel said, “What were we thinking! We thought we were blessed to have you as our minister.” Her comment was a gift of grace to me, as was our visit that day.

After 30 years in ministry, this sabbatical time has been an incredible opportunity for me to look back on the many ways that I have been blessed to be a pastor and, in particular, your pastor. Thank you for loving me and supporting me – warts and all! Thank you to all our amazing staff and clergy who have been holding the fort in my absence, too. You are all gifts of God’s grace to me.

With Love and Appreciation,
Dr. Mark


  1. Bernie Bischel says:

    Good Morning,

    Loved reading your story. Very interesting. Enjoy and can’t wait. To read your book.📖

    Oh to “walk a mile in those shoes”. Ha.


    Sent from my iPhone


  2. bonnie thompson says:

    enjoyed reading this, dr. mark!!

  3. Alynn j Mahle says:

    It looks like you are having a fruitful and busy sabbatical, as well as some time to write. What could be better? I do hope you are getting some down time. I know your beloved was with you in Savannah for a few days, so that time was certainly a blessing for you both. I miss you. Much love, Alynn

  4. Cyndee Bratz says:

    So happy to read your wonderful account of your sabbatical. Sounds fantastic. May your long walk be a great and safe journey on Camino de Santiago as you continue to rest (?), refresh & reinvigorate. Coincidentally, our son in Wash DC is moving to Spain Aug 4th w his bride, Rachel (June 29th). He will work out of the US Embassy in Madrid.
    Wishing you a most satisfying and blessed 2nd half. We’re missing you, but, are pleased for you to have this special time. Love, Peace, Joy, Safety, Blessings,
    Cyndee & Lloyd Bratz
    PS. Can’t wait to read your book!

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