Over the weeks in Lent we met for a combined adult Sunday school series on the practice of Sabbath.
In our time together we sought to reframe our understanding of Sabbath as a time of “divestment” from the rhythms of the rest of the week. In the words of Walter Brueggemann, whose book on Sabbath was our guide through those weeks of study, Sabbath is a form of both “resistance and alternative.” It is resistance in that it is a “visible insistence" that our lives are not defined by work. The opening chapter of Genesis reminds us that we are creatures made in the images of a resting God. It is alternative in that it models a different set of virtues from what we experience in the world: rest, equality, singleness of heart, and committed neighborliness.
Many of you have told me that it was a challenging, but powerful study that has already born some fruit. Some have set apart time for multigenerational family meals. Others have been more intentional about leaving work alone on Sundays or Saturdays. Still others have opened conversations up as a family about how observing some form of Sabbath rest might help them better embody the values they want to live by as a family. I know that Audrey and I have talked about how we can be more present to each other and the boys, and what specific practices would help us do that.
Sabbath is also something we have committed to encouraging in our ministers here at the church. At the end of last year the church approved a recommendation from the personnel committee to provide a sabbatical to our associate ministers (we already had provisions for the senior minister). The exact process is still a work in progress, but the Monday after Easter, Jody began a 6 week sabbatical. Julie will leave for hers later this fall.
Over the first week of May I, too, will take enjoy a time of sabbatical rest when I meet up with some other pastor-friends in the mountains of North Carolina for what we’ve taken to calling “Preacher Camp.” We’ll workshop our preaching plans for the year, share ideas on different ministries, programs and practices, and talk about church and lots of other things, too. Last year was our first gathering and I can say with conviction that I’ve never participated in another “continuing education” opportunity that was as life-giving. Many of you also remarked that it significantly improved my preaching. Let’s hope it has the same effect this year!
We closed our Sunday school series by asking how we as a church might better encourage each other to be “Sabbath keepers:” people of rest, people with quiet spirits, people whose hearts are tuned to the music of God and not the noise of the week. I hope we will continue to do that in different ways as a congregation and that you and your family, and other groups around the church will do the same.