“The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile,’ for many were coming and going and they had no leisure even to eat.” – Mark 6:30-31
There is a rhythm of activity and rest that seems built in to nature. Plants and animals both have a daily alternation between the hours of sunlight with all the activity that happens in them, and the hours of nighttime dark, quiet, rest, and sleep. A similar pattern seems to govern the year with its months of life and growth followed by the seasons of dormancy.
Human beings of all times and places around the world have found it healthful to organize their lives into these same naturally-rooted patterns: daily wakefulness and sleep, weekly times of work and play, seasonal holidays as refreshing breaks from work routine, and even longer cycles of routine and change, as when people make life and career shifts at intervals in their lives. Many of these cycles and patterns are codified in laws, cultural customs, and religious injunctions.
Central in the Hebrew Bible is the instruction to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” the third of the Ten Commandments. Two different reasons are given: 1) because the LORD worked for six days and rested on the seventh (Exodus 20:11), and 2) because as slaves you used to have to work without any breaks; keeping Sabbath is a sign of freedom, health, and a fully human life (Deuteronomy 5:15).
In addition to the weekly Sabbath rest, the Hebrew Bible envisions a longer cycle of work and time for renewal:
Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a Sabbath to the LORD. ‘Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, but during the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. – Leviticus 25:2-4
It was not only the land that needed rest in the seventh year, it was people too; Israelite families would take a break from normal agricultural work. This pattern was repeated on an even larger scale after “seven weeks of years” when a year of Jubilee was declared: debts were cancelled, land was returned to its original owners, and people rested from their work the whole year long.
Biblical Sabbath is the gift of a rest that renews and restores both individuals and a whole society. It is a time set aside to nurture our relationships with God, self, and others. It is also a discipline and a challenge to remember our human fragility and ultimate dependence on God. Through the practice of Sabbath God’s people return to the wilderness in which God nurtured the people with manna and quail.
I count it as an extraordinary gift to be afforded the opportunity to take a sabbatical of seven months (December 1, 2019 – June 20, 2020) here in my seventh year of ministry at Hope, and the sixteenth year of my ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. I hope that the coming seven months will be a kind of Jubilee year, a chance for: taking a breath in life; engaging in physical, mental, and spiritual self-care; resting, reflecting, and re-setting; spending time in prayer; being with family. I hope to nurture my own vital connection with God, self, and others.
Specifically, my plan includes the following:
· spiritual Direction in the Jesuit tradition – the “Retreat in Daily Life;”
· monthly 24-hour retreat days;
· participation in another congregation as a worshipper;
· visits to other congregations representing diverse worship styles;
· conferences and workshops;
· intentional physical self-care
Through this disciplined time of sabbatical I wish to renew my sense of purpose, and recover my sense of what is most important to do and be in ministry. This is a time for listening to God’s leading, and trusting to God’s providential care. I trust that as I return to active ministry, the congregation will benefit from a new energy and groundedness that I will bring to my work and relationships.
I am deeply grateful to the congregation for supporting a sabbatical policy, and the kind and encouraging words so many of you have offered in these past months. I’m also reassured in taking this leave, knowing there is such excellent and competent leadership in the community: staff, Council, Personnel and Mutual Ministry committee members have all worked hard to ensure a strong ministry continues at Hope. Also, an excellent interim pastor will be filling the core pastoral duties – see the announcement from Council in this newsletter.
In the coming seven month period there is also an opportunity for Hope congregation to “enter the wilderness” of the sabbatical, and listen afresh for God’s voice. The “Flourishing Congregations” survey (more information in this newsletter) is a chance to have a congregational conversation about the strengths and growing edges of this community, and where God is calling Hope to be next. What a wonderful chance this is to remember that the gifts of the Spirit are poured out generously to all members of the congregation!
My great hope is that at the end of the sabbatical period we—congregation and pastor—will re-enter our shared ministry strengthened in our vocation, and renewed for the continued journey together.