Helping each other let go: Sabbath as a communal practice

Feb. 16, 2023

By Rev. Rick King

As you and I prepare for a period of sabbatical this July through September, I’d like us to consider what things will make for a real rest for our tired bodies, minds, souls, and spirits. Sabbath and sabbatical come from the same Hebrew word, and they both are about integrating the rhythms of rest and work into our lives so that they’re in balance. In this new series of columns on Sabbath, we explore the gift of God in the practices of letting-go and resting in God and Creation.

An interesting serendipity happened a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve learned to take these happy coincidences as signs that I need to find out more. After our sobering confrontation of the rather large deficit in our 2023 budget (we voted to approve it, nonetheless), Katie and I were wondering together about what impact it would have on our church’s mission.

Katie mentioned that during “Rebellious Rest: Sabbath Liberation for Churches, Families and Leaders,” one of the workshops Katie attended at the Connext Summit last October, Rev. Kara Root of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church spoke about her church’s 16-year budget deficit.

I thought to myself, “We’re not alone!” So I Googled Kara, and up came a blog article in Faith and Leadership, an online publication of Duke University Divinity School for church leaders, and it was all about Lake Nokomis’ embrace of Sabbath-keeping and the renewal that’s come about as a result.

Lake Nokomis’ experience with Sabbath raises some provocative questions for people of faith who have been through a life-altering experience like the pandemic, yet have found ourselves often returning to our former busyness and the stress of juggling multiple commitments. And I’ve watched how the pandemic has altered church in ways that will never allow us to return to the way things were before.

These questions seem tailored directly to our situation—even though they’re raised in a 2016 blog article, before the momentous changes of the 2016 election, the pandemic, and the reckoning with racism brought to a head by George Floyd’s death.

What would the circumstances have to be in order for our church to make radical changes?
How can our congregation keep Sunday worship from being “just another obligation?”
In what ways does our congregation challenge cultural understandings of productivity and busyness? In what ways does it affirm them?
What would an ideal Sabbath look like for you?

Next week, we’ll begin looking at communal and individual ways people can practice Sabbath, keeping in mind that no two people or congregations are alike in how they practice Sabbath, and the only criterion is whether or not it gives us life.

When you think of Sabbath, what comes to mind for YOU?