Biblical theology focuses the warrant for sabbath rest in divine mandate. Recognizing the need for
human beings to rest and renew, God modeled sabbath rest for us (Genesis 2:2-3) and included it in the most foundational commandments of covenant community (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Although the sabbath is explicitly defined as the seventh day, sabbath theology is expounded upon elsewhere in Scripture. Every seventh year is established as a sabbath year, in which not only does the populace rest, but the animals and the land itself rest as well (Leviticus 25:1-7). It’s a recognition that the creative potential eventually depletes through overwork and excessive demands, and the land requires rest in order to replenish its power to nurture.
Following this theology, clergy are to observe a sabbath year every seventh year of their pastorate. A pastor’s ability to nurture growth becomes depleted over time, and she must take time for rest and renewal. Recognizing the profound risk of burnout among clergy, our denomination and its councils have become increasingly insistent that pastors observe a sabbatical every seventh year. It is vital to their ability to continue to lead and nurture according to their ordination vows: to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.
Reverend Susan has been in pastoral ministry for 15 years without a sabbatical. This is her eighth year with us, and she has been encouraged by presbytery and our session to take a sabbatical, which she is planning for next year—her ninth with us—in the summer of 2024. We are in the process of writing a grant that will help to fund her sabbatical, which includes funds allotted for the congregation to use in her absence. It is expected that the congregation also does renewal and vitality work while the pastor is away working on hers. This is a wonderful opportunity for the congregation as well as for the pastor.
Over the coming month some of our leadership will invite conversations with us about our desires for congregational vitality so that we can plan for Reverend Susan’s time away. The recent pandemic and related attrition, the loss of our prison family ministry, and the financial challenges we (along with nearly every other church) face have given us rich ground to amend and till. We look forward to seeing how this conversation unfolds, and to preparing for this important work.