By Marci Glass, MDiv ’08
A few years ago, our congregation changed our monthly worship “rhythm.” Once a month, we worship Saturday at 5 pm and then take the next Sunday as an intentional day of Sabbath rest.
On the Sunday when we don’t worship, people are invited to be intentional about how they spend their “day off.” It is not another day to work. It is a day to be present and experience joy. It is a day to enjoy God’s creation and the relationships we treasure
On a typical Sabbath Sunday at our house, I go for a hike and then read the Sunday New York Times at my favorite coffee shop. In warmer months, my family will drive up to the Payette River and Justin and Elliott kayak while I read a book on the bank of the river. Then we make dinner together and maybe watch a movie.
Sabbath days are great days, because they seem to last much longer than a normal day.
Another family in the church is using the Sabbath day to have their college age daughter bring friends home from school and enjoy a meal together. Another person described a restful day that involved a hike and birding. Someone else invited someone she doesn’t get to see often to join her for lunch. Another person read a book on a hammock under a tree.
People have asked how and why we did this. I shamelessly stole this idea from Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church in Minnesota. I heard a presentation from their pastor, Kara Root, at the NEXT Conference a while back, and immediately thought of the benefit for the congregation I serve.
We had just come through the New Beginnings visioning program offered by our denomination. It was a great process, involving small group conversations about who we are, how we relate to our neighborhood, and where do we see ourselves being helpful in our neighborhood in the future.
Two truths, somewhat contradictory truths, emerged.
So, when I heard the presentation from Kara, about how the congregation she serves practices Sabbath intentionally, I recognized the potential benefit for Southminster.
After much conversation with our Worship Committee and the Session, we decided to try it for a summer and see how it went.
We recognized this would require the congregation to make some big changes to their habits and practices, so we spent two months talking about it before it happened.
I wrote about it in the newsletter.
I mentioned it in worship.
We publicized it as much as possible–on our church reader board, on the website, on Facebook, by email. We had the deacons call or write their church members to let them know of the schedule change.
We bought many copies of the book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller and invited the congregation to read the book together.
In the current culture, we have had to re-define what “regular worship attendance” looks like. If it used to be 3-4 times a month, it now seems to be 2-3 times a month. I don’t say that with judgment–it is just observation. One of the observations made by an elder before we started this was “we all take a day off church now and then. I wonder if this would encourage people to all take the same day off so we might see each other more often?”
We started it as a temporary summer thing, and it was a huge success, so we extended it into our regular routine. Our highest attendance at worship services is often on Saturday nights. We even had a big crowd on Labor Day Saturday!
We expected that families with young kids would like the change, giving them a day to sleep in and rest on Sundays. (And they do like it.) We were surprised when some elderly members, who had not made it to worship much this past year, told us how much they loved it. 9:30 Sunday morning is just too early for them to be up and dressed and ready to be in worship, but 5 pm on Saturday is perfect.
It has also resonated with people who, for whatever reason, feel that Sunday morning is “too church.” They had wandered away from organized religion, and will come back on a Saturday evening, even if we don’t see them on Sundays.
In terms of the service, it isn’t hugely different than a Sunday service, although it is more simple and relaxed and involves fewer people in leadership (the choir doesn’t sing, for example, giving them a week off each month from worship leadership). Because people have already “broken the rules” by worshiping on Saturday night, I think they are more willing to try new things in worship too.
It allows for fellowship with a different rhythm too. In warmer months, after worship, we have food trucks waiting in the parking lot and we gather outside, sit in the grove, eat dinner, and enjoy fellowship.
We invite the neighborhood to join us for food trucks too. The fellowship time on those nights seem expansive–we don’t have anywhere else to go and we don’t have to get up early the next morning for church, so we can be present together. What a gift.
In the two years since we started Sabbath, our energy levels have been re-set. We are able to start doing the things we knew God was calling us to do. We’re even in the midst of a campaign to build a new facility that will better allow us to live into our calling.
Every so often, someone asks, “Can’t every week be a Sabbath week?” As Alice Walker once said, “Anybody can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week.” Her statement reminds me of the balance we need in life. We aren’t called to always live in Sabbath, as if every day is a vacation. We are also not called to never live in Sabbath, as if rest will never come.
I suspect most of us do better with the busy, working, scheduled part of our lives. I pray you may find Sabbath rest as well.
About Marci: I was born and raised in Spokane, WA, but ventured to the foreign lands of Texas to attend Trinity University, where I majored in History and International Studies. (Need Trivial Pursuit help on 18th Century France? I’m your woman.)
I have been married for 23 years to Justin Glass. We have two, wonderful boys who both play soccer and can run really fast. I am now the shortest person in the family.
After many years of serving churches in youth ministry, I attended Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA.
I am the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, ID, which is the best use of me to date.
Southminster is a welcoming and inclusive congregation in South Boise that seeks to share God’s grace in our community.
I serve on the Board of the Covenant Network, a group of Presbyterians who seek to make the church as generous and just as God’s grace. I serve on the Board of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and on the Governing Board of Ghost Ranch.
Join the Spirituality Program at the Center for Lifelong Learning for Practicing Sabbath with Ryan Bonfiglio on October 20-23, 2016. This course focuses on how Sabbath keeping entails encountering God’s shalom and delight in a way that roots our Christian identities and resists the cultural idolatries of production and performance. More information and registration here.