May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be always with you!
As today is now one week before my sabbatical, I've been thinking about sabbath a lot this week. Many people, when they find out that I am taking a sabbatical, have been asking me, "So what are you going to be doing on your sabbatical?" and I've been replying, "The primary goal of this Sabbatical is rest, so it's not going to be a doing sort of sabbatical!"
The concept of Sabbath is introduced to the Ancient Israelites in the Ten Commandments: "Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work - you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreign resident in your town. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it." (Exodus 20:7-11)
Sometimes thinking about sabbath feels like a lists of "do this" and "don't do that." Don't do any work; don't play cards; sit quietly and pray or read your bible.
But author and theologian Walter Brueggemann helped me to re-interpret the meaning of sabbath in his book, Sabbath as Resistance. He writes about how sabbath is a joyful celebration and a time to reconnect with God, with the people around you, and with yourself. The very premise of the book is that by practicing sabbath, we can push back against (or resist) our dominant culture that says that we aren't "human beings" but that we are "human doings"; to the dominant culture, our value lies solely in what we do or in what we produce. Instead, in God's eyes, we are "human beings" whose value lies simply in the fact that we are. When we practice sabbath, we honour the fact of our being. It is a time to disconnect from the demands of the rest of the world so that we can reconnect with our being, reconnect with our human-ness.
Which means that sabbath doesn't have to happen on a Sunday. (In fact, according to the Jewish calendar from which Christianity arose, sabbath is Saturday. The very earliest Christians were Jewish, and the very earliest church practiced sabbath on Saturday, the 7th day, and then the 1st day of the week or Sunday was a celebration of resurrection. Later, the forces of the world that say that we should be productive combined the two observances - sabbath and celebration of the resurrection - into a single practice so that only one day per week would be "lost" to practicing our faith.)
Sabbath can happen one day per week; it can happen one week out of seven; it can happen for one part of each day.
And in the United Church of Canada, the practice of sabbath is worked into the "terms of call" for all ministers so that after 5 years of serving with the same church, we receive a 3-month sabbatical when we step away from our regular obligations to re-connect with God, with the people who are important to us, and with ourselves.
As you saw in the letter from the M&P committee, my primary sabbatical goals are woven around this principle. Rest, re-connecting with God, and reconnecting with things like writing that bring me joy. (And I will also be spending a bit of time with family and friends too.) And that will then renew me for my next 5 years!
In terms of practical things around the church, here is an overview of what Session and the Official Board have planned for the next three months:
Sunday Worship will continue as usual, with 9:15 services on the Peninsula alternating between Summerville and Long Reach, and 11:15 services at Westfield and on FB Live. Session has coordinated a schedule of pulpit supply, including Licensed Lay Worship Leaders, some groups within the church, and a couple of ministers who will be here to lead communion services. Ash Wednesday and Holy Week (ie Maundy Thursday and Good Friday) services will happen as they usually do.
Pastoral Care Emergencies - some of my colleagues have agreed to be "on call" for any pastoral emergencies while I am away, and Margaret Stackhouse has agreed to continue on as the coordinator for this. She will have a list of who is covering when, so if you encounter a pastoral emergency and need to contact a minister (e.g. for a funeral), you can call Margaret at (number redacted) and she will connect you. (My voicemail message and the church voicemail message will also be set up to direct you towards Margaret.)
Bible Study is going to continue to meet every Wednesday at 10am in the parlour at Wetfield. The group is going to take turns leading themselves in their discussions.
Meetings - Rev. John Roy (St. Mark's United Church) has been appointed as Pastoral Charge Supervisor which means that he will attend Official Board Meetings on my behalf to meet the quorum requirements.
Communication - I will have one more mid-week message next week, then this newsletter will be going on sabbatical for a couple of months too. Elaine will be sending out a weekly e-mail from the church office with the announcements to keep you connected, and if there are any other e-mails that need to go out (e.g. snow cancellations) they will also be coming from the church computer. She is working on updating the contact list, and is planning to send out a test e-mail in the next couple of days to make sure that she has an up-to-date mailing list. Stacy Lacey has agreed to take over administration of the Two Rivers Pastoral Charge Facebook page, so that will stay active as well.
Communication, Part 2 - in order to make my time away as restful as possible, I will be shutting down some of my usual communication channels. I will be taking Gmail off of my devices, and setting it up with a message saying that all e-mails received during this time will be deleted without being read. I will also be setting up my phone's voicemail so that it will play a message directing you to the church office or to Margaret but it won't receive any new messages. And most significantly (at least for me), I plan to get off Facebook for the time that I am away. I ask you to please respect my time away by not trying to work around these to find ways to reach me. (And Elaine does know how to reach me in case the church burns down!)
It is a good feeling to be going off without any worries that Two Rivers Pastoral Charge will keep on churching! We are blessed with so many gifted leaders in our congregations.
In terms of announcements for this week:
Worship on Sunday will be at Summerville at 9:15 and at Westfield and on Facebook Live at 11:15. We will be reading Deuteronomy 18:15-20 and talking about what it means to be the church - not as individuals, but together. As this will be my last Sunday before my sabbatical, the Ministry and Personnel committee will be doing a short send-off commissioning towards the end of the service at Westfield.
Board Game Night - continuing the last Friday of each month, our January Board Game Night will be this Friday, January 26, at 7pm in the parlour at Westfield United Church. Bring your favourite board game to play with others, or come ready to play someone else's favourite! (And as always, there will be snacks, because what are board games without snacks?!)
Ash Wednesday - Easter is early this year (March 31), which means that Lent also begins early this year. Our Ash Wednesday Service will be on Wednesday February 14 (yes, Valentine's Day) at 7pm at Westfield United Church. This is a service where we are reminded of our own mortality as we receive the mark of ashes on our foreheads; but we are also reminded that we are all God's beloved children, and that death doesn't get the last word.
Bible Study - as mentioned earlier, bible study continues every Wednesday at 10am in the parlour at Westfield United Church. Everyone is always welcome - no prior bible study experience is necessary!
Dog Sitter Needed - this is a bit of a different request, but Elaine Elkin asked if I could reach out to her church family. As they do every year, she and Rob will be heading to Mexico in the spring, but the thing that is different this year is that they have acquired a dog since their last trip! If you have any leads on dog sitters who might be able to help them out (in the dog sitter's house, not in Elaine's house), can you please pass them on to Elaine at (email address redacted). Callie is a 5-year-old Staffordshire Terrier who is great with people (including kids) and with other dogs (but is untested with cats).
And that's it for announcements this week!
For a closing thought this week, last night I started reading a novel written by former Moderator of the United Church of Canada, the Rt. Rev. David Giuliano. The novel is titled The Undertaking of Billy Buffone and it is a beautiful and heartbreaking story that weaves together death and life and faith and the northwestern Ontario landscape (that is still my heart's home even though I haven't lived there in 10 years). The dedication page of the book includes a quote from another book, and when I opened it up and read this quote, it took my breath away. This comes from Thomas Lynch's book The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade:
Grief is the price we pay for being close to one another. If we want to avoid our
grief, we simply avoid each other.
There's no easy way to do this.
So do it right:
weep, laugh, watch, pray, love,
live, give thanks and praise;
comfort, mend, honour,
Blessings to you and yours, today and always,
Rev. Kate Jones
Two Rivers Pastoral Charge
(506) 757-2201 (office)
(506) 343-1307 (mobile)
"Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?"
Jesus replied, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "You must love your neighbour as you love yourself."