Re-imagining church & practicing sabbath

by susan on April 27, 2018

One of The Well’s core practices is that of “re-imagining” & we describe it like this:

While we respect and seek to follow a rich Christian heritage, we also value our freedom to creatively re-imagine the church in our current context. We are committed to questioning and critiquing our current practices, and are open to God’s guidance into new expressions of church.”

Re-imagining has taken a lot of directions in our seven years of life together as a community. Early on, though, it looked like making sabbath rest an intentional part of our rhythm. For so many of us who grew up in church, it seemed like work & busyness were highly valued while rest was rarely encouraged (or even mentioned). Although most people at The Well tend to come and go as their schedules dictate, we decided that taking a communal sabbath would say something about who we are & what is important to us.

But, what does it say about us?

First of all, it says that rest is important. It’s important, necessary & part of being human. Made in the image of God who rested, we too must carve out space to rest our minds, souls  & bodies. Resting not only improves our capacity for work, it reminds us of our place in the order of things. Resting reminds us that the world will march on without us. It does us good to remember that we just may not be the one who keeps the universe in motion.

Practicing sabbath is also a way of declaring our freedom. The command to keep sabbath was originally given to an Israelite community who had been shaped by an economy of production & consumption. While in Egypt, the Hebrews were constantly reminded that they were only worth what they produced – they were slaves of the empire. Once free, they would need a way to remember that they were more than their work, more than their daily routines & more than what others expected of them. When we break from our jobs, from the daily grind & from our own place in systems of producing & consuming, we too declare our freedom. While most of us still work, earn, serve & commit ourselves to a variety of responsibilities, sabbath helps us pause, to gain perspective & to renew our identities as children of God, not cogs in the Empire’s wheel.

Along those same lines, sabbath gives us space to reflect on how what we’ve been up to during our non-sabbath time. Genesis 2:1-3 tells us about God’s rest from the work of creating the earth. Before the rest came the pause. The pause was a stepping back to see what had been created & to determine its goodness. There seems to be a relationship between the stepping back to reflect & the rest that would follow. Whether it’s a 15-minute rest or an entire day, we need space to see how we are spending our time, what kind of world we are creating & whether our labor is leading toward good or not-so-good direction for ourselves & others. Practicing some form of sabbath allows us to do that.

So, what does practicing sabbath look like?

For our community, one thing it looks like is taking a 5th Sunday break from hosting our Sunday gathering. Honestly, it’s tough to do that sometimes. It can be  anxiety-producing & routine-interrupting. From time to time, people even show up to find that the church has left the building. It’s a discipline for a church to give up gathering – we miss being together & besides, can we really survive without collecting that Sunday offering?

As individuals & families though, sabbath will no doubt look different for each of us. What makes me weary may be the very thing you find restful. What liberates me may stifle you. It’s not so important that we find a uniform way to observe sabbath, but rather that we are intentional about making space to rest, declare our freedom & reflect on what we are giving ourselves to the rest of the time.

There is SO much more that can be said about sabbath – if you are interested in learning more, check out this great list of resources. Just one more thing…it would do us good as we pause to remember all those here in our community & around the world who are unable to experience the joy of sabbath. As we carve out time for rest & renewal, let’s remember all who are enslaved & who are so weighed down by systems of oppression that sabbath is only a distant dream. As we take sabbath, may we rest not just for ourselves, but so that we can return to God’s ongoing work of liberation for all.

Peace + love,


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