As I reflected on the sabbath conversations yesterday the one element that we didn’t talk very much about was sabbath for staff. We talked about the contexts of parishes where the pace is unsustainable. Yet what does that do to those who serve in these settings? John’s story about sabbatical was very instructive for me. So often, the institutions where we minister tell us that we need a ‘work product’ to result from our sabbath. And we buy into this false understanding of Sabbath. For institutions sabbath and sabbatical are not the same. People often ask; “What did you do on your day off?” If we answer; “Nothing!” we feel guilty.
One of the things that my Lilly Renewal Leave taught me was that sometimes church laborers just need to find a place where ‘their hearts will sing.’ And perhaps for our congregations the best thing we can offer to a sabbath starved world is to be an example of it. Recently a member of my congregation told me about his decision making process toward retirement. He is a CFO of a Fortune 500 company. He is in the office at 6 am often doesn’t leave until 8 pm. He has been working 6 or 7 days a week for the past 40 years at this pace and much of his identity is wrapped up in this role. He wondered if he could ever choose another path. He said the turning point for his decision to retire was when he reflected on the renewal leaves that our church staff has taken during the past decade. He figured that if we had the courage to step off the cycle of constant work then he could as well.
It is easy for those of us who serve the church to understand the concept of praying for the church, but I think one of our greatest gifts in today’s world might be for us to play for the church.