Sabbath for the Whole Congregation

Engaging our entire community in a practice of mindful, joyful rest

My church takes one week off every month, and I think it’s the best thing we do. Okay, we do a few really great things, but this is one outside of typical church activities. Personally speaking, I think it’s the healthiest thing for our community. 

It’s been an intense couple of years (you know why) and we’re a small church. We call ourselves Humble Walk and call the West 7th neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota, “home.” In March of 2020 we thought we’d separate for a few weeks, then everyone would be excited to come back together and participate in person, but that’s not how the story goes. Two weeks turned into months which turned into years. Eventually we started meeting in person again, but inevitably it’s different. Everyone is more distant and much more tired. Humble Walk has a very small staff, so a lot of things get done with arms thrown open and a “who wants to help?” but people weren’t answering enthusiastically, or sometimes at all. I know my church. We’re a bunch of introverts on the good days and these weren’t good days. 

So, the decision was: if the church is tired, the church must rest. Then several lovely things happened at about the same time. First, everyone was released from the unnamed responsibility of showing up. I imagine even the holiest among us occasionally crosses the church threshold because “it’s what we do on Sundays”. 

Second, a collective of gig economy, shift working, midwestern Lutherans were given permission to rest. One Sunday, Pastor Jodi said, “Rest is not doing nothing. Praying is not doing nothing.” And I felt that deep in my core because I had always been of the thought that if I’m not moving or creating, I’m stagnating. In my life this leads to a cycle of not resting and burning out, but I took the assignment. I kept the time in my schedule that I set aside for going to church and once a month that block in the calendar stayed blank. My Sabbath Sundays became a time for mindful, joyful rest, and as they did for the rest of the congregation. Which led to the third beautiful thing. 

Early in the Humble Walk sabbath practice someone stood up during announcements and said “Since next week is sabbath, everyone is invited to my backyard. Just bring yourselves”.  For most of the summer and fall, as Minnesotan weather allowed, people gathered in his backyard. We chatted, ate amazing soup, and we healed. It was unstructured and unprompted, just a community member seeing a need and filling it.

We’ve just ended the Easter season and throughout the Easter season Pastor Jodi charged us to “go out and look for signs of the resurrection” and intentionally or not, Sabbath has sent me out of the physical church to see where God is in my world. If all the churches shutter tomorrow, where does the love of God go? I’ve seen the love of God in how we love each other, and church is more a place to practice that love. God is a bowl of soup made by a friend who says we need not rest alone. God is in the quiet moments when we allow ourselves to heal. 

Your turn

How do you take sabbath? Maybe you need a tech sabbath, or a social media sabbath. Whatever you need. Remember the rest can be enough, without the need to seek other answers. 

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Xander Cavanaugh

Xander Cavanaugh

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