Autumn’s kiss


Autumn light through woven spider’s web

and the chill of melancholy pale blue sky  

as summer, now, has gathered up her blessings

bestowing them for now on others shores.

The swallows, swooping low on furrowed field

where crops surrendered grain to sower’s hand,

and hedgerows ladened bright with dew kissed fruit

that ease the bite of winter’s cruel command.

Hear distant church her harvest hymns rehearse,

as once again the barns are closed secure

and deep beneath the soil the perished seed

prepares for resurrection life once more.

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Love’s sacrifice 

Speak loud, of truth as deep as love,

where justice needs no penalty

and mercy with compassion crowned
,

reveals divine intensity.

Yet sullied soon in shout of greed,

where ego rules with golden rod,

and not one voice raised in dissent

as despot takes the seat of God.

But turn aside, is not love’s way

though journey’s hope is sacrifice

and wounds received in rescues cause

are born that love may claim her prize.

Creation’s song

The sound of salted shingle washed,

In tidal breath as old as time

which recognised by slowing heart 

beats the rhythms of creators love.

As on the air that stirs the waves

the gulls take chance to climb and dive

their cries in joy filled concert sound,

which echo now, deep in the soul.

Here now in wonder, lost, I stroll,

where words no more demand their place

for primal voice in constant song

touches that place which speak of life.

The whisper of Love

The whisper of love speaks of eternity. 

It blows wherever it will,

never knowing which voice, carrying its word,

will wake the embers of the heart,

thought long ago extinguished

now, in the heat of love’s fire, all life is changed.

Today, in this place, love will find its voice,

In vows that speak the depth of love,

In poetry sublime, capturing intention

that two hearts dare to hope.

To love and to cherish,

Until time is no more.

So, let the organ sound its fanfare

and the bells ring out their melody,

as choristers in harmony raise the joyful song,

Let bride come from her chamber,

As bridegroom stands in readiness

and let everyone present, join in loud Amen.

CMD Sept 16 For Joanne and Michael 

Fallen

 

image

We shed a tear for Britain’s fallen sons
who stirred from fear by bugle’s trusted call
advanced for victory yet fell like stone
In the unimagined horror of the Somme.

Where boys in uniforms with room to grow
lay slaughtered, crimson stains on khaki shrouds
Strewn in all directions, as far as eye can see,
thousand upon thousand scaring foreign ground.

For Tommy, no return to sweetheart’s breast,
or longed for letter sealed by scented hand.
His eyes, drawn closed in sacrament of comrades gentle touch
betrayed by someone distant floored command.

 

 

The Transformation of Sabbath

 

Sabbath Ministry

 

How Sabbath keeping can transform the ministry of the church.

 

 

Introduction

 

Perhaps the greatest work of service the church can offer today is an understanding of the re-hallowing of time. To seek to reveal Christ’s Kingdom through a rhythm of life which acknowledges the whole of our humanity and walk into the authenticity of being rather than doing. The modern disease, as so many recognise, is busyness. Being busy enslaves individuals, destroys families and communities and robs many of the joy of life in which we were created to delight. The secular world has adopted a 24/7 lifestyle which is trumpeted as the ‘must have’ accessory of our day and we have lost the sense of balance and rest in which our whole self can be recreated, retuned and healed.

 

The author Wayne Muller, captures the condition succinctly in these words: our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something – anything –  is better than doing nothing. Because of our desire to succeed, to meet those ever-growing expectations, we do not rest. Because we do not rest we lose our way. We miss the compass points that would show us where to go, we bypass the nourishment that would give us succour. We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom. We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight. Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest. And for want of rest our lives are in danger. (Muller, Wayne. Sabbath. New York: Bantam Books, 1999. Print.)

 

This frantic busyness is true of the church too and affects the life of many laity and clergy. There has been talk recently in the Church of England of unprecedented levels of clergy sickness related to stress. This is further heightened by diminishing stipendiary clergy numbers which adds to the responsibility of a smaller number of remaining clergy. This seemingly negative development is declared by many to be a wakeup call to the church, new initiatives in many dioceses aimed at growing new disciples are either on stream or coming on stream because we sense deeply the need to do church differently. For many our current situation is a cause of much anxiety and throws dioceses and parishes into greater busyness in seeking to address our present situation. It seems to many Christians that God is remoulding his church, that we are in a period of transformation/resurrection but there is, I think, a real danger in believing that we can shape that transformation in our own power, by our own effort and though even more busyness.

 

What if the call of the church is completely different? What if the prophetic words of Roger of Taize – when the church becomes a house of prayer people will come running – are now being realised. Maybe it is in and through offering the world a different way of living that we, the church, will be transformed and offer hope and salvation to the world.  What if our constant busyness is what is actually damaging the church, putting seekers off when what they find on offer in the church is just another variety of busyness with a religious label?  When the people of Israel were rescued from Egypt where they had been forced to work every day making bricks one of the first things God does is to institute Sabbath. To mark their new liberation, they are given rest, echoing the divine rhythm set out in Genesis –  God gives them the Sabbath. A life lived with God looks different and Sabbath is at the heart of that difference. This piece of work is formed of narrative and reflection of my own experience of encountering and being transformed by Sabbath keeping and suggests that it is only in a transformed ministry based in Sabbath rest that the church will be transformed.

Re-imagining of Ministry

As an Anglican Priest of over twenty years when the prospect of pastoral reorganisation began to become a reality in my ministry I took a couple of days’ retreat with those with whom I minister to think and pray together. All of us knew someone who had been broken in the pressures of ministry or had time away from ministry with stress related illness, or both. We had a deep conviction that in our own changing landscape we wanted to do things differently. We wanted to minister deeply and authentically within our new context, in a way in which growth was encouraged and faith deepened but we realised that this needed to be our reality too.  In our retreat time we began to think about creating time for the team to be together for deep sharing, in prayer, in food, and in each other’s lives. We crudely termed this ‘community time’ and, as we attempted to schedule this into our diaries, faced many challenges.

As I thought more seriously about what we were seeking to do and create, it suddenly seemed so counter cultural for our busyness obsessed world, that I began to wonder if this type of time, Sabbath time, is actually the most important we can seek to create as we re-imagine ministry and the life of faith. Might this be the foundation stone on which we must now build. Our own experience of the start of this new pattern was following the initial enthusiasm, the temptation to return to the way things have always been done. I am also aware following conversations with colleagues how easily this new idea of Sabbath keeping is initially welcomed and then rejected because of the pressures we have created in ministry over many years. Is this truth of sacred time, ancient and central to so much of what has gone before now obscured by out dated, broken models of ministry which have been passed down from vicar to curate, accepted without challenge or question until we are imprisoned in a constant slog of doing? A model in which the language of the sacrificial nature of ministry is used to justify these broken models as the price for following the call of Jesus?  This is not of course only true for clergy but many in our congregations too balancing often pressurised careers with the demands of church life in which God is all but squeezed out.

As we face the transformation of the church, and with clergy well-being being seriously examined in many dioceses I think we are at last coming to the realisation that there must be a different way to minister. A way which will allow for the flourishing of clergy as leaders in a flourishing church. I believe that the recovery of Sabbath offers a biblical and theologically grounded place to begin to build this new model of ministry. Sabbath, reflects the rhythm of life set out in the divine life, most particularly in the story of creation. And on the seventh day, God rested from all his labours (Genesis 2:2). Sabbath was a time to appreciate the ‘goodness’ of all that God had just done and to rest in it. From our earliest times, Sabbath has played an important part in the life of faith; a time to rest in the goodness of God and to recognise our own blessedness. But have we lost a real sense of Sabbath rest even on Sunday’s in our society with Sunday trading and the effects this has on families, and Christian families are no exception. We are noticing in our congregations the shift away from weekly church attendance, in part due to the developments and activities Sunday opening now open up.

I am sure that I am far from unique among ministers when I say I often find Sunday a rather stressful day with little time to rest in God.  When faced with the responsibility of more churches coming under my care, I feared that this experience would become worse; the busyness increase. What would that mean for my own spirituality and well-being, for my own Sabbath? How can I teach and speak about the spiritual life and it’s need for rest times if my own practice has become distorted without me ever really realising it or perhaps ever having known it? I have simply fallen into the trap of busyness which leads away from Sabbath and into stress. I think even more worryingly for the Church is that busyness is understood as a good and successful model, to be constantly busy is to be ‘doing it right’.  this was something I first realised when I was asked to take on the role of CME Group Convenor some years ago. At my first meeting with these newly ordained priests who had only been in ministry for just over a year there was already a sense of not being able to take a day off as something to regard with a sense of pride. It was almost as if they sensed in this unbalanced view of ministry that they were actually doing ministry properly. Because they were too busy to take a day off they were doing it right. I can only assume that such a belief is handed down from vicar to curate, perhaps unconsciously.

If we begin our reflection by revisiting Genesis and the model of divine life, in whose image our life is created, we notice that each day of creation has purpose – a beginning and an end, in which there could be Sabbath time; ‘God saw what he had done and it was good’. When days become too busy, with so many tasks and demands, we often struggle to think we have done anything well – that anything we have managed to achieve is ‘good’.

This is surely the road to spiritual ‘disease’ that we have seen many people become infected with, particularly in ministry. If ministers are to flourish we have to unlearn the habit of constant busyness, striving to meet the expectations of others, the voices in our head that tell us that it is in busyness we find our value or self-worth, that the work of the kingdom is so urgent, there is sometimes not even time to eat a meal in peace. Many clergy seem to live this as their reality believing that in this model is our example. We have to seek different and more sustainable models not only for the Church of tomorrow but also for the Church  of today. Sabbath I believe offers such a model, as Sabbath time is the source of our ministry, and allows our ministry and lives to be more deeply attuned to God.

When Jesus saw the busyness of his disciples he took them away to a lonely place.  We must do this for ourselves – we must create our own times of Sabbath and it must be understood by parishes, deaneries, and diocese to be as vital in the flourishing of ministers as all other elements of their ministry – in fact, I would suggest, the most important for I am beginning to wonder if from  it everything else will be coloured and flow.

The more I have read and explored the theme of Sabbath the more I have realised that what we as a team had talked about as community time is in truth Sabbath time; a time to rest in God and our own blessedness, to pray and discuss faith, share our lives.  This is Sabbath time as we seek to help each other understand all that is good in our own ministry and communities.

I also realise that beginning to seek to minister differently is difficult to do, even though I am not 100% sure why that is. I remember a number of years ago, the Bishop of my then diocese stated that in the two weeks before Easter each parish, deanery and diocesan committee should schedule no meeting. I remember the sense of outrage and scorn that such an instruction elicited, particularly among some of the laity, but clergy too (and I hold my hands up!). We did not receive this as a blessing at all, I never even considered the possibility it might offer blessing but I, like many others, received it only as an intrusion from someone who had no understanding of the pressures of parish life!

I fear we have become so immersed in this distorted model of ministry that even when someone invites us to ‘come away’ we sneer and ridicule instead of giving thanks for a time of Sabbath. We think that only busyness can be valued; we have become blind and we must strive once more to receive sight.

Creating this Sabbath time is not plain sailing, we need to understand what and why we are doing this for ourselves and our life (including of course our Ministry). Then once you have grasped it you have to help the people you serve understand that as a minister you need rest to flourish, to minister more authentically, to love more deeply from a place of nourishment. In this way and by living this model maybe our people too will come to understand the place of real rest and reflection in a life of faith. To be truly effective we will need bishops and archdeacons to live this model too, to create models of episcopal and archidiaconal ministry that recovers a real sense of Sabbath for themselves, to live it proudly so that we can break the damaging grip of constant busyness that so many clergy wear as a medal and help the whole ministry of the church to recover the divine rhythm in which all life is created.

It seems that many early Christians kept Resurrection Day (Sunday) but also kept Sabbath as a day of rest distinct from other days. I think this fits with what we are trying to establish once again and make part of our spiritual practice. The historical context is explored later but I hope these words of Brother Curtis Almquist, SSJE, published this on the communities Facebook page might be helpful.

Sabbath-keeping is countercultural, it’s also essential. You are not only worthy of rest and re-creation; you are hard-wired to need it.  What would be Sabbath-keeping for you?  I’ll give you some other words that may fit you:

 

  • the Sabbath is for worship
  • the Sabbath is for rest
  • the Sabbath is for reflection
  • the Sabbath is for renewal
  • the Sabbath is for beauty
  • the Sabbath is for relationships
  • the Sabbath is for stillness
  • the Sabbath is for play and laughter
  • the Sabbath is for the love of nothing.

 

I was also heartened that many others throughout the world and from different Christian denominations and traditions are coming to this realisation. Here is a quote from Marva J Dawn which helps to illustrate this recovery of ancient wisdom.  In her book she reminds us that Jesus kept the Sabbath; it was who he was and if we are to be like him then it seems only sensible that we must keep Sabbath too. But when Sunday is not a day of rest is there another way to do this?

Dawn writes:

We might wonder, then, about doctors and nurses, pastors and musicians and other service practitioners who have to work on a Sunday. On the one hand, we must avoid any sort of legalism about Sabbath keeping. Jesus himself healed on the Sabbath, yet the Gospels strongly and frequently affirm that he faithfully observed the Sabbath.

 Some people will necessarily have to make Sabbath another day besides Saturday or Sunday if it is to be a day without work. If such a ‘re-scheduling’ is necessary, the important thing is to make that day of ceasing from work a consistent habit, a regular rhythm of keeping Sabbath every seven days.

 Perhaps those people, such as nurses and pastors, who must labour on Sundays could form small groups to set aside another day to assemble for worship and to cease working for the entire day. (Dawn, Marva J. Keeping The Sabbath Wholly. Print.)

I think for the team in which I minister and perhaps the whole ministry of the church, we must recommit to Sabbath keeping as a core spiritual practice. If Sunday does not work as Sabbath we must work to find another day to set aside for God. This is not easy in a world that is ‘24/7’ but unless we model something different we are failing in our calling as spiritual guides to the people we serve. Perhaps only when we find the rhythm of Sabbath again can we begin to hope to re-imagine ministry ….. perhaps when we take this step, our ministry will re-imagine itself?

 

Being Christ

 

To be the hands of Christ, I must be willing to be sullied from service,

Ready to reach out and touch that someone may find healing.

To be the feet of Christ I must journey without the reassurance of destination.

Ready to struggle with the steep climb or to dance on the plain.

To be the eyes of Christ I must look even when the sight is disturbing

That the oppressed and the violated might know that someone sees.

To be the ears of Christ I must listen for the cries of suffering

Refusing to be deaf to guard my own comfort or conscience.

To be the voice of Christ I must become hoarse in the calling for justice

And silenced in the beauty of the presence of grace.

To be the heart of Christ I must be willing at every personal boundary

To be broken, that in the healing, love may be understood more deeply.

(CMD 4/10/14)

 

Exploring Sabbath as a start to re-imagining

Before we can begin to re-imagine Sabbath we must first know more about it and its place in the life of Jesus and the early church. I propose to do this in three ways. First to examine Sabbath keeping by the Jews at about the time of Jesus, to reflect on Jesus’ attitude to Sabbath and Paul’s understanding of Sabbath keeping which many Christians today site as the reason that Christians should not keep Sabbath, some very vehemently. From this more informed position to begin to reimagine Sabbath for the Church and in particular its ministers in our own day.

It is not easy to trace the history of Sabbath keeping among the Jews of Jesus time in much detail. The writings of Josephus and Philo offer some insights as do texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls such as the Damascus Document and the Book of Jubilees which appear to have been important to Sabbath practice among the Essene community. What we can say with certainty is that the Sabbath had central importance in the Jewish consciousness at that time. As the Jewish people spread into the Diaspora there was a strong commitment to Sabbath keeping as that which kept God’s people distinct among the stronger surrounding and prevailing cultures. There was a notion that the collapse of the nation would begin with a forgetfulness of the Sabbath.  The Sabbath also appears to have played a part in eschatological expectation, common among the Pharisees and found in the Mishnah (Ned 3:9) that for the Messiah to come Israel must be faithful to all the commandments but that Sabbath observance outweighed all the commandments of the Torah. The keeping of Sabbath was therefore intrinsically linked in the minds of some Jews with the arrival of the Messiah. This reminds me of the way St Augustine speaks of the Sabbath in his confessions where he writes about the Sabbath rest as prefiguring the eternal rest of heaven. (Augustine, and E. B Pusey. The Confessions Of St. Augustine. Waiheke Island: Floating Press, 2008. Print. See conf 13: 35-6)

 

What is also clear from the documents that survive is that by Roman times there were a number of different ways that Sabbath keeping was interpreted as Scripture allowed for a number of understandings to develop. THAT Sabbath must be kept was universal among Jews, HOW Sabbath was to be kept varied between different branches of Judaism in many respects including but not confined to, travel on the Sabbath, the type of food eaten and physical intimacy. It is important to know and understand this as we begin to ask about the attitude of Jesus to the Sabbath day, was he a Sabbath breaker or a Sabbath Keeper?

 

Jesus attitude to the keeping of the Sabbath has been much rehearsed by scholars but it appears there is a growing consensus today that Jesus was an observant Jew. In other words, what may have been used in earlier scholarship to suggest that Jesus’ behaviour broke Sabbath regulations is seen today to fall well within the Jewish framework of Sabbath observance of his time, which as stated above was diverse.

 

Most of the stories with regard to Jesus and Sabbath are to do with controversy, about what was or was not behaviour permitted on the Sabbath – healing and plucking of grain. If we look first at the healing stories we note that with one exception (Luke 13:10-17) the Sabbath healing are affected by word only, only in the instance sited above does healing involve touch. Whether touch or healing would have been regarded as work and thus broken Sabbath has been much discussed, David Flusser and Geza Vermes would be two examples of modern scholars whose opinions differ on this point. Anthony Harvey suggests that stories of Jesus healing on the Sabbath reveal no instance in which He transgressed the Sabbath law and even touching someone would not have been classified as work. Further Hyman Maccoby points out that the Pharisees actually allowed for healing on the Sabbath. Nina L Collins in an extensive study of this says:

 

“The claim that Jesus was criticised by the Pharisees for performing cures on the Sabbath has been continuously repeated for almost 2,000 years. But a meticulous, unprejudiced evaluation of the relevant gospel texts shows that the historical Jesus was never criticised by historical Pharisees for performing Sabbath cures. In fact, Jesus and the Pharisees were in complete agreement for the need for cures on the Sabbath day. It is also clear that the Sabbath healing events in the gospels have preserved a significant part of the history of the early Jewish debate which sought to resolve the apparent conflict between the demands of Jewish law, and the performance of deeds of healing and/or saving life.” (Collins, Nina L. Jesus, The Sabbath And The Jewish Debate. Print.)

 

This therefore suggests that the healing controversies, if indeed they were viewed as such in Jesus time, were with the Sadducees or Essenes who had stricter rules. So the breaking of Sabbath regulations through healing might only highlight a disagreement within the Judaism of Jesus day as to what was allowed, not everyone would have considered Jesus actions in healing as contrary to Sabbath observance.

 

What then of the instance of the hungry disciples plucking ears of grain as they walked through the wheat field? Does this give us a clearer picture of Jesus and his Sabbath practice or lack of it? Less appears to have been written in this regard though Marcus Borg proposes that this is Jesus’ preference for deeds of mercy over the personal quest for holiness (Borg, Marcus J. Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994. Print). For some the question is one of authority, that in the defence of the disciples’ behaviour we are being urged by Jesus to understand the importance of the disciples’ mission is of greater import than Sabbath observance.

 

As I have reflected and studied these passages, I feel we cannot ignore the Christological import of the texts. The feeding of the hungry, whether they be disciples in a wheat field or the five thousand on a hillside, just like the stories of healing are surely revelations of God’s Kingdom and the identity of Jesus as God’s Messiah. How then could the Sabbath day be inappropriate for such activities? With the bestowing of the Sabbath on the people of Israel God declares their freedom. Nahum M Sarna in his commentary on Exodus states:

 

“In Exodus the weekly Sabbath is rationalised as being grounded in the liberation from Egypt rather than in creation”. (Sarna, Nahum M. Exploring Exodus. New York: Schocken Books, 1986. Print.)

 

We know that by the time of Jesus illness and disability led to social and religious exclusion and the healing that Jesus offered had the result of social and religious inclusion which could be viewed as a liberation in a very real and deep sense. In this way healing would fit perfectly within the understanding of an act of liberation and could be considered an appropriate Sabbath activity, an act not only of healing but liberation.

 

Feeding also can surely be viewed in a different way to incorporate the act of the disciples plucking grain in a wheat field on the Sabbath. It could be said that the account is a reflection of the messianic banquet where all are fed. If, as we have seen, Sabbath and the arrival of the Messiah were linked in the Jewish consciousness of Jesus’ time then the actions of the disciples in plucking the grain could surely be interpreted as prophetic actions which speak of a deeper truth. It could be argued in Jesus the Messiah has arrived and the hungry are indeed fed. This interpretation it could be argued reflects the Sabbath more authentically. Fasting is forbidden on the Sabbath as hunger has no place in divine encounter, in assuaging their hunger the disciples could be said to be revealing the messianic arrival and proclaiming the Sabbath more deeply. So I see no conflict in the actions of Jesus or his disciples in the keeping of Sabbath, in fact I would suggest they could easily be interpreted to add weight to the case for Jesus keeping the Sabbath.

 

To support this assertion, I would like to site a story from the Gospel which includes the Sabbath but does not form part of any controversy dialogue.  In the Synoptics the story of the burial and resurrection are sandwiched either side of the Sabbath. Mark 15:42 has Joseph of Arimathea arranging to have the body of Jesus removed from the cross and placed in the tomb while the two Mary’s watched from a distance. In 16:1 when the Sabbath had passed the three women went to the tomb to anoint the body. Mark takes for granted that the readers would understand the necessity to postpone the anointing of the body of Jesus due to the Sabbath. Matthew and Luke follow Marks pattern with Luke uncharacteristically mentioning the law when in 23:56 he writes “on the Sabbath they rested in accordance with the commandments”. It would seem to me that the communities for which the Synoptics were written would see nothing unusual in this or that the early Christians would have considered Sabbath observation as a questionable practice. The Gospel writers portray the faithful women as observant of the Sabbath without question or comment.

I would conclude that this suggests strongly that for those early Christian communities Sabbath observance per se was not a matter of dispute and that they took for granted the legitimacy of Sabbath rest. What was debated was the type of activities that constituted Sabbath observance.

It might also be worth noting at this point that the Gospel of Thomas, an early Christian writing closely related to the Gospel of John and considered by many New Testament scholars as an important source for study, in 27b states “If you keep not the Sabbath as Sabbath you shall not see the Father”. It would be an over simplification to suggest that this alone points to Thomas or the Johannine texts reflecting the Synoptics in regard to Sabbath. John is writing towards the end of the first century, there appears to be a development also reflected in other parts of the Gospel of Thomas that their communities considered themselves to be living everyday on the Sabbath. For these two communities space and time had been transcended by the “eternal life now” of Jesus’ revelation. This is a simplistic overview which could be greatly expanded in a larger piece of work but is added for a sense of completeness. The developing tradition within the communities of John and Thomas reflected the traumatic split from Judaism which had by then occurred. It does not perhaps enhance an attempt to suggest the importance of Sabbath rest for Christians in our present age except I would suggest the need for each community to understand the nature and essence of Sabbath so that they might live this way in each day. I suppose it is a little bit like deciding to live everyday as if it was Christmas day, this would only make sense if one understood what made the day ‘Christmas’, for only then could we know if each day reflected it. Only in remembering the things that make Christmas Day special and incorporating them into the everyday could one do this effectively. So while John and Thomas might not explicitly be used to make a case for Sabbath keeping today in the way that the synoptics can I would ascertain they do not necessarily make such a proposal null and void.

What then of Paul. Any survey of Sabbath keeping among Christians today (Youtube is a really good source of the variety of opinion) will highlight those who feel that keeping Sabbath has no place in the Christian life and that to suggest that Christians should keep Sabbath is to propagate a dangerous hearsay. Without exception those putting forward such a view point use the epistles of Paul to back up their standpoint. We must then do the same and examine the texts which seem so problematic to my theory and strive to explore if there is another way to understand these texts. There are two Pauline texts (Gal 3: 2 and Romans 14: 5-6) and one text related to the Pauline community in Colossians 2:16 for us to examine.  I will address the Colossians text later but first concentrate on the two Pauline texts cited above.

First it is important to point out that the nature of these seemingly contradictory texts have and still continue to cause scholars a puzzle.  Difficulties have been accounted firstly in the interpretation of the texts and the exact situation which Paul is trying to address in each case and then how the two texts relate to each other. The Galatians text has Paul seemingly express to the community his displeasure for being influenced by those who perturb them in how they are keeping ‘days, and months and seasons and years’. Paul acquaints this practice, into which he claims they have been seduced, with their ceasing to be Christian.  In Paul’s letter to the Romans, without question his greatest theological treatise, Paul encourages his readers to discern for themselves with the judging of days.

It is fair to say that for Paul his concern is for Justification not through the law but through faith in Christ. Does this mean then for Paul that the law no longer has any value? Ziesler a leading Pauline Scholar would argue that Paul only rejects the laws because they point to a theology of the justification by works (Ziesler, J. A. Pauline Christianity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990. Print.). The law as divine guidance is not rejected out of hand as Paul states this in Romans 10:4. ‘Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes’. Paul understands faith in Christ as that which brings salvation and that Christ is a fulfilment of the law. Does that mean then that Paul sees in Christ the termination of the law? What Paul wants us to understand is that Christ is really what the law is about, its fulfilling not its end. So in Romans 7:12 Paul can state ‘The law is given and holy and Spiritual’. In Christ the law finds its true meaning which is not salvation but to provide a pattern for life. It is interesting to note than nowhere in the Pauline Canon does he suggest that Jewish Christians must not keep the law but what they must not do is think that in the law they will find the way to Salvation, which is in Christ alone. In the church at Rome there are both Jewish Christians and converts and they obviously have a different practice and relationship to the law and here Paul counsels mutual understanding and tolerance (Romans 14-15)

If, says Paul some continue to keep the law it must not be allowed to become an issue which disrupts the community except if the Jewish Christians are seeking to impose on the converts a different understanding or prominence for the law.  Ziesler suggests that this is exactly what is happening in the community in Galatia and explains the difference in Pauls attitude which appears, at least at first glance, as contradictory.  So the issue in both Galatians and Romans is less to do with keeping the Sabbath and more about what keeping the Sabbath is understood to mean. Those who keep Sabbath because they believe that it is through the keeping of the commandments that they will be right with God – have failed to understand Jesus as Saviour. However, I think in the reading of the Romans text we can see no condemnation for those who continue to keep the commandments and thus the Sabbath as a chosen way of life and holiness. Perhaps you could argue that it is in Paul that the language of Sabbath keeping must rightly be changed from the language of commandment to the language of sacrament which will be discussed later in this piece of work.

We cannot end this biblical overview of Sabbath and its observance in the early church without examination of the Letter to the Colossians 2;16 and the controversy the author was trying to address there. Many would site this text as a clear indication that Christians should not keep Sabbath. It is not easy to know what controversy the writer to the Colossians is seeking to address as the letter itself is our only source of information. The author talks about regulations which are causing some concern in the community, and may possibly concern ascetic practices because of the author’s reference in 2:21 to ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.’ Whatever the source of these regulations the author attacks them on grounds of authority and effectiveness making the case that they do not come from God.

References in 2;16 to food and drink, or a festival or a new moon, or a Sabbath are of course areas regulated by Torah. Are these also to be interpreted negatively and grouped together with the ‘do nots’ of 2:21 or is there a different way that we might understand this text which may suggest a favourable view of Sabbath keeping.

The Scholar Troy Martin suggests that there is such an interpretation though requiring an in-depth study of the structure, grammar and syntax of the text. By use of his own scholarship and in a way consistent with the rest of the letter Martin suggests that 2:14 should actually be translated as follows: ‘Therefore, let no one assess [judge] you by the way in which you eat and drink, or in matters of a festival, or a new moon, or a Sabbath which are a shadow of things to come, but [let everyone assess] the body of Christ {by the way in which you eat and drink or in matters of a festival, or a new moon, or a Sabbath]. (Martin, Troy. “But Let Everyone Discern The Body Of Christ (Colossians 2:17)”. (Journal of Biblical Literature 114.2 (1995): 249. Web.)

 In this way of interpreting the text the author of Colossians is not advising the readers not to allow the ‘other teachers’ to impose Sabbath observance because to do so is to live only a shadow of Christ, rather he insists that since they have died with Christ (2:20) and have been circumcised in the flesh (2; 11-13) they have been forgiven (1:14). On matters of food or festivals, moons or Sabbaths no one should be judged for doing such things, as these are indeed a shadow of the things to come. Their actions are therefore revelatory and not something to be condemned.

So it could be argued the author was a Christian who was defending traditional ways which includes the keeping of the Sabbath. This reading requires a very technical understanding of New Testament Greek and I summarise only the conclusions but it offers a very different interpretation, which may be viewed as supportive of the importance of Sabbath keeping as part of a way of life which was considered holy and God given when understood through the lens of the Salvation in Christ.

It seems then that is it absolutely possible to use scripture to support a suggestion that the Church needs to recover in its ministry and for its people a sense of Sabbath, consistent with the practice of Jesus and reflected in the life of the early church as part of the Rhythm of life and holiness.

Sabbath as Sacrament?

In Paul I find a shift away from commandment as binding for salvation to commandment as gift in which we may still find a pattern of holiness where the imprint of God may be sensed and lived. This reinforces for me the idea that Sabbath can find a central place in the life of faith to allow for balance and order and be recovered, and where work and rest nourish and enrich each other in a continuous symbiotic relationship. In this way the fourth commandment becomes a grace filled offering to each person to live in a pattern for which we were created but we have learnt to subvert in many subtle and not so subtle ways.

At its heart I have come to realise that Sabbath is a deep reflection of grace. In the Genesis account of creation, humanity is created on the sixth day and, in designating the seventh day as holy, the first invitation of God to his children is to rest in him. The first thing God declares as holy is the seventh day – hence Jesus’ words about the Sabbath being made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Sabbath is divine gift to us and for us. For the Israelites fleeing Egyptian oppression Sabbath rest became an outward and visible sign of their new relationship with God and a weekly call to both remember and proclaim that new relationship. You could suggest that Sabbath is a visible and outward sign of a deeper spiritual truth.

Would it be credible then, to explore the sacramental nature of Sabbath.  For me it fits neatly into the understanding of what a Sacrament is, that definition which many of us were taught to recite by rote in confirmation class – “an outward and visible sign of an inward and given grace”. For our Jewish brothers and sisters this description would fit well with what they understand Sabbath to be. A lived experience in which they are brought to a place of transformation through a God- given gift, visible in the world in its expression but mysterious, in the true sense of the word, in the transformative nature of Sabbath spiritually. As the Jewish essayist, Ahad Ha’am, said:

We can affirm without any exaggeration that the Sabbath has preserved the Jews far more than the Jews have preserved the Sabbath. If the Sabbath had not restored to them the soul, renewing every week their spiritual life, they would have become so degraded by the depressing experiences of the workdays, that they would have descended to the last step of materialism and of moral and intellectual decadence.

Perhaps Sabbath might be understood as the primary sacramental expression in which, and through which, all other sacraments are rooted? To recover the understanding of Sabbath as God’s gift to his people, transformed in Christ and the and in the life of the faith community on a Sunday, but with clergy needing to find another day to allow for the nature of Sabbath to nourish their own life of faith and relationship with God. In this way ministers would live an outward and visible model that would speak on our communities of the God who in Psalm 23 talks of the desire to lead us beside still waters. It reflects the concern of Jesus for the disciples returning from the mission field who are swamped in busyness and who Jesus invites to ‘Come away with me’. It would speak in our communities of our distinctiveness which is of course such an important part of Christian witness and thus deeply missional. It would recover a gift freely given which we have ignored in a belief that what we can do for ourselves is better than what God offers to us.

If this designation of Sabbath as sacrament feels right, then we are forced to ask the question ‘why do we struggle to accept the need for real Sabbath in the ministerial life of the church?’ Is this response pointing us to a deeper truth – is it symbolic of our struggle to accept the grace of God from which our ministry, indeed our very life should flow?

As I have talked to priests and bishops about the rediscovery of Sabbath as an essential for ministry I have been reminded of the struggle to accept the possibility of such Grace. I have spoken to those who subtly want Sabbath to be what they think they need it to be rather than what God gave it to be. Although Sabbath will look different for everyone Sabbath must be Sabbath. I have watched people recognise in the offer of Sabbath keeping something worth exploring only to wriggle away when they realise that it might affect their own behaviour.  ‘I can’t rest if I know I have lots to do so it is easier to work for a few hours in the morning to allow for real rest time in the afternoon’ is something I have heard quite a bit and recognise from my own ministry. We must though be clear this is NOT Sabbath. It does not allow a time which is just between me and God. It does not have the core of Sabbath but indeed says more about our own need to be needed and a refusal to allow God to be God. If the space which Sabbath creates is a place of our regular recreation we have to understand that we cannot direct that, we are not God. We have to allow God to be God and remould and remake us in the space that weekly Sabbath offers, period.

If we are unable to accept this as grace, while recognising it as such, we are in a ‘Catch 22’ situation from which it is difficult to find a way forward. How can we be ministers of the Gospel of grace, revealed in Christ, without being joyful in the fullest experience of living that grace. If the first expression of that grace is the gift of Sabbath how can we ignore it, why do we resist it? Surely in so doing we become but a poor reflection seen in a mirror dimly as St Paul might say. What we are actually doing is talking the talk, without walking the walk (cheesy I know but apposite all the same).  It becomes the gate we point people towards without ever going through ourselves, that remains closed to us through choice, people who Jesus might call ‘blind guides’. Perhaps a more profound question would be, “how can those exercising a sacramental ministry in the church not take seriously the need to celebrate a sacramental Sabbath?”

Grace leads us away from ego centered self to our deepest self, back to the source of our life, but so many of us struggle with the invitation to drink from that source and that is a dangerous place.  Some friends who live the contemplative and hermitic life offered the following reflection from ministering to people at their hermitage;

[1]Our own experience is of many visiting clergy worn out, burnt out, driven by themselves, by their ego, by guilt, by expectations ….and they present as hollow shells devoid of life and any joy.

 I think most ministers would recognise something of this from their own journey. As we feel that we are being called to be more and more self-reliant with ever greater responsibility and, in the angst that such expectation can bring, it is very easy to move further away from a grace-based life into a model of ministry in which grace plays little part. A place where grace seems too good to be true, or a luxury busyness will not allow, if indeed we think of it at all. We live in a culture which has “nothing is for free” and “there must be a catch” as its mantra. This stands in direct opposition to our understanding of grace but have we allowed this mantra to unknowingly become our own? If we allow ourselves to be weekly reshaped by Sabbath, if we ensure that is a day in which God and I have time for deep conversation, where I can think, reflect, and be with God there can be no challenge which such disturb us. The Lord is my Shepherd; I will not want.

 

I would suggest that re-imagined ministry offers us a real opportunity to do things differently, that we are being invited to reshape and restore ministry in a way which will allow for the flourishing of our lives and thus our ministries. I believe this must begin with a conscious acceptance of the grace that Sabbath time offers, that we might experience, understand and live that grace more deeply in a more authentic model of Christian life and service.

However, we also realise that such a move can feel un-nerving, trapped as many of us are in a model of ministry which demands more and more of us, in which our sense of worth has become tied to the quantity of what we offer in our own strength and to the expectations that others have of us, a justification by busyness. Then, even when we are invited into grace, we perceive it as either a pressure or unwelcome intrusion into the known and established patterns that have served previous generations well – ‘if it ain’t broken don’t fix it’.

Yet many ministers know the deep truth that something is indeed very broken, as are so many of our colleagues, and we talk often about the need to do ministry differently but somehow remain imprisoned in that very model of ministry we claim to be so desperate to escape from. A little like the proverbial frog sitting in gently heating water not realising that at some point the water will cook him.

Perhaps our inability to address that which we know is in need of change is our fear of grace, our sense of unworthiness of it, our loss of understanding of our need for it.  Re-imagined ministry MUST allow us to find for ourselves the transforming grace of God which I believe Sabbath, when taken seriously and lived deeply, will offer us and the church.

It seems that part of the human condition is a deep sense of our unworthiness of God’s love. Deep within the salvific work of God in Christ is the revelation of a love deeper than we can ever know or dare to imagine. We are called as baptised Christians to live that truth and ministers have a particular role in modelling it, for without it the whole church is impoverished because it is a cornerstone of our faith.

My proposal is that for the church to flourish we must walk once again in the embrace of grace, where we are freed from fear, from a sense of our own unworthiness and our own limitations. This fear is subtle and wily and can often masquerade itself in ego as a sense of our own importance, and delight in the need to be needed.  We need to find again our real identity through the freedom as a people under grace. Where God may once again be our resource and in which we experience afresh the God of abundance. Ministers must seek to find ways to bathe in that grace that it may inebriate us, flowing from us in joy, creativity, excitement and inspiration that we may speak to others of the need for Sabbath rest from a place of deep knowing. But fear can be a powerful and cruel master, not willing to let us go easily, and if we don’t realise its hold it will continue to rob us of the possibility and joy of blessing and the true experience of grace.

I see sacramental Sabbath as our invitation to rediscover God’s grace, to be delighted and surprised by it, inspired and resourced through it, while recognising how easily we can be robbed of it by running away from it. In my struggling with these questions, the poem below by George Herbert has found its voice.

 

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning, If I lack’d anything.

 

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:

Love said, you shall be he.

I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,

I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

Who made the eyes but I?

 

Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

So I did sit and eat.

 

As I have pondered Sabbath as Sacrament I have found the parallels deeply appealing. It has also led me to wonder if in interpreting Sabbath in sacramental language, recognising within it the grace of God revealed, we could perhaps speak of the refusal to keep a Sabbath day as sin. That what we don’t need is to recapture Sabbath but to repent and to back to the God who is waiting in Sabbath to minister to us? This might certainly begin to change some of the medal wearing mentality which has grown up in regard to how inability to take a day off should be viewed.

I conclude this section on Sabbath as sacrament which is found in the work of Samuel A. Meier. In Genesis the only thing which is being made holy. In the Levitical literature, whatever is pronounced holy can transmit its holiness through contact. So suggests Meier:

When God made the seventh day holy, he by that act invested the day with a quality that could be as contagious as other items designated holy by God. ( Eskenazi, Tamara Cohn, Daniel J Harrington, and William H Shea. The Sabbath In Jewish And Christian Traditions. New York: Crossroad, 1991. Print.)

 In keeping the Sabbath therefore, we allow the contagion of busyness to be replaced with a day that can literally transmit holiness to us. I think this fits really well into the idea of using sacramental language to describe the Sabbath.

 

 

 Reimaging Solitude

 

How can time spent in retreat teach us about time in a way that will make our parish ministry more centred, and can it help me to better understand the potential for the transformational nature of Sabbath keeping.  We never have enough time, is the catchphrase of our age – maybe it is the catchphrase of every age? Time is a complex concept and large tomes have been written to try to explain it in regards to sceince, philosophy and indeed theology. Here I will only dip my little toe in the shallowist part of this debate in talking about how an understanding of time can help us to better understand Sabbath, and work underpinned by sabbath and also our dear old friend busyness.

 

The Greeks had two words for time which sought within their usage to differentiate between the profane and the sacred – these two words Chronos and Kairos are helpful I think in assisting us to think more deeply about the nature of time as we as people of faith are called to experience it.

 

Chronos is the word used for the destructive onslaught of time which consumes all in its path. Personified by the ancient Greeks in the God Chronos who  has been painted by various artists as develouring his children in a constrant ongoing orgy of destruction.  I think we can all recognise in this image the experience of time from our own lives. This experince of time I would suggest is the essence of busyness. It is an never ending procession of tasks which never get finished and which demand our constant attention to the detrament of everything else. It is time as destroyer of joy, opportunity and creativity.

 

Kairos on the other hand is time as experinced very differently. When we experience time as Kiaros we experience it is opportunity, time as fertile with purpose. Kiaros I would suggest is the fabric of Sabbath and also of prayer, real prayer. Kiaros is time as we experince it when we walk along a beach for no other reason than that  the sound of wave upon shell lifts the heart or taking a picnic upto the top of a hill to enjoy your favourite sandwich in the warmth of the sun overlooking the expanse of earth below. Kiaros is living time as sanctification and in so doing richness is added to all time.

 

The world lives full tilt in the power of Chronos. Indeed we now  refer to time as a unit of cost – “How much do you earn an hour”, we ask. For our over commercialised world time has become about profit, time is for us to consume so that profit can be increased and maximized. In this understanding of time a walk by the sea or time spent with a loved one is a waste with no commercial value and thus of no status or import. There is a very real danger that we can get lost in Chronos so that we no longer see our need for kiaros, which for people of faith is essential, which for human beings is essential.

 

The Kiaros we experience in Sabbath keeping could be the antidote the world is in such desperate need of in our time. Once we intentionally and regularly commit to kairos we glimpse the divine by experincing time as blessing, opportunity, possibility, as sacred. Once you begin to expereince time as kiaros what you discover is that the whole of our experince of time is affected. The experience is a little like the blessings opened to us in a regular pattern of prayer.

 

I have been practicing centering prayer now for a few years. Centering prayer is the practice of 20 minutes of silent prayer each day. In centering prayer you designate one word to be your sacred word, it symbolises consent and commitment to the practice. You might say you sactify that word so that when the mind begins to wander, as it does all the time, you use the sacred word to pull the attention and intention back to God. When I first began the practice of centering prayer I really struggled with this and failed to grasp the significance of my sacred word and felt dissappointed that I was constantly having to use my sacred word because I seemed to have the attention span of a gnat! One of the most helpful books I discovered on the practice of centering prayer was by the American priest and author Cynthia Bourgeault. She speaks of the positive effects of using the sacred word to pull the attention back. She talks about it a little like building up the muscles during exercise (Bourgeault, Cynthia. Centering Prayer And Inner Awakening. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2004. Print.). The pulling back is part of the whole experince. The more I experience the practice of Sabbath keeping the more I believe Cynthia’s description of the use of the sacred word   is also what we are doing in keeping Sabbath. In Sabbath we are pulling our understanding of time back to the Creator.

 

The more we practice it in weekly Sabbath keeping and daily prayer the more our experince of the whole of time is changed so that even days when the tasks are many become  imbued with divine opportunity. When we are refocussed in the light and experince of Sabbath everything is different. In Sabbath our hearts are changed and we begin to understand what it means to sactify time, it gives us a different perspective. But just as in centering prayer you have to commit to it to understand it and get the benefits from it. Sabbath must  be lived that its blessings might be opened for the whole of our existance. The trouble is that busy people, and clergy are no exception, get lost in busyness as Chronos becomes their God. In this state all chance to experince kiaros seems like a waste. So it is not unusual to hear clergy talk about being too busy to pray.

 

This is I believe destructive not just for clergy but for the whole of humanity because if we, as those who live a life betrothed to God in ordination are not able to understand the damage that is being done in a way of living in which task has actually become the master, what hope is there for anyone else? Busyness robs us of knowing God the way we might, Sabbath offers us the opprtunity to know God as his children. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). We know this instinctively but ignore it so easily.

 

In many ways how we experience time is in our own control, to offer something different to the constant drumbeat of a world obsessed with doing we need to live differently, to experience time differently and I would suggest that Sabbath is the way that we do this. Only when we keep sabbath intentionally and weekly can we rediscover something of what we are all called to. Only in living our ministry in an attitude of Kiaros can we offer the church and thus the world an authentic way of living which challenges and breaks the power of Chronos in its detructive vision of life and offers the opportunity to live, really live. Isn’t that what so many in our world are really searching for?

 

I recently spent two nights away in silent hermitage retreat and reflect here on what that experience has taught me. The need for stillness and silence is not anything new for me, and there are times I recognise in myself the yearning for such solitude. The strange thing is that although I recognise this longing in 21 years of ministry I have been on retreat only a handful of times.

 

I think this is partly because the yearning and experience contains fear. That to get to the place you hope retreat might take you, you first need to wrestle with yourself, like Jacob wrestling for the night with God (Genesis 32).   I think this wrestling is at its root about facing ourselves as we truly are. Maybe that is the starting place of a transformation in which we intentionally seek to go deeper into God, that of necessity such a journey can only begin by our desire to journey more deeply inside ourselves, to discover/rediscover our true selves.

 

Before Jesus began his ministry he spent 40 days in the wilderness rejecting the temptations to be other than who he was truly called to be, the messiah of Isaiah’s suffering servant. He had to look himself spiritually in the eyes, face the temptation he found there, name those temptations and then focus on God to move beyond them. The same I think is true for us as people but perhaps (or perhaps not) as ministers it is even more acute.

 

As ministers we live so much of our life on pedestals that if we are not careful such a view of the world can distort it and us. In our church communities so many people seem to want to place ministers on pedestals, seemingly wanting or needing to believe that we are somehow more holy, people with spiritual superpowers and over years of ministry we can become addicted by such views. Pedestal ministry can be a subtly seductive model for ministry, where the control and power it brings can be very alluring. Like Frodo and the ring, once you have used it and sensed its potential, it is tempting to use it again and again. In this way we somehow loose who we really are and learn to play a part, and if we are not very careful the role can rob us of ourselves without us ever realising what is happening. The ring is on and Mordor looms large.

 

Retreat it seems to me, has an important element of reacquainting ourselves with who we are while also helping us to face honestly our own insignificance, that from such a realisation our true value and worth, as one beloved by God can emerge. This is not easy because the ego likes to be special, looked up to, worshipped. To stand on the precipice of our own insignificance seems like the place of destruction when in reality, if we have courage, it is the place of our liberation in which we can be remade.

 

 

The psycologist Ester Schaler Buchholz writes; “Being alone gives us the power to regulate and adjust our lives. It can teach us fortitude and the ability to satisfy our own needs. A restorer of energy, the stillness of alone experiences provides us with much-needed rest. It brings forth our longing to explore, our curiosity about the unknown, our will to be an individual, our hopes for freedom. Alone time is fuel for life.” (Buchholz, Ester Schaler. The Call Of Solitude. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Print.)

 

 

Solitude is the place of that reconstruction and recreation. To begin to know God more deeply we need first to be prepared to strip away all the layers which ego stroking have applied. This is done in the silence of intentional prayer and those who live the contemplative life seem abler to do this perhaps because in the practice of real contemplation this stripping away is a constant process?

 

What is perhaps much ignored by people in our busy modern world is that in engaging, or allowing ourselves to become engaged in the shackles of busyness we are actually marring the image of God within us, even if we believe we are doing it for the very best of reasons – as I believe many clergy do. But the visionaries of faith see things differently and we need to pay much greater attention to their words if we are serious about the transformation of the church. In this way we might offer people something they deeply need, lost as many of them are in a world of distraction and noise. Thomas Merton says this:

 

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence….[and that is] activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.

 

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.

 

The Frenzy of our activism neutralises our work of peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful. (Merton, Thomas. Conjectures Of A Guilty Bystander. New York: Doubleday, 1989. Print.)

 

If we take these words of Merton seriously then our present model of ministry is not just destructive to the lives of ministers but deeply damaging to the fruitfulness of that to which we are called because our life with God, surely our first calling, is impaired. We lose that which is most valuable.

 

The antidote to this disease must surely then be time with God, Sabbath time, not snatched where we can fit it in but as the bedrock from which all else springs. Sabbath time is our greatest gift from God and yet we have developed a life of faith in which it is discarded as a nice but deeply unpractical gift for our present situation.

 

For those not used to silence or deep prayer, and it is well acknowledged by ministers the first thing to go in busyness is prayer, this process of re-creation may be unsettling and perhaps even fearful. We become lost in the roles we play, attracted by the kudos it may bring and so lose the authenticity of living as we truly are, which is of course who God calls us to be. Thus we become poor reflections, as Paul might say, of who we are in God.

 

Looking back on my very short time away I realised how loud the ego can shout in this process using physical needs and urges to distract us in seeking the healing of Solitude as effectively as busyness can. Like Jesus in the wilderness the ego can be silenced only by refocusing on God in prayer, which is easy to say but much harder to achieve. This wrestling with temptation, it seems to me, is part of owning who we are, part of honesty of authenticity.  It is where we can name our weakness and so move on to a deeper understanding of ourselves. I believe that the more we know ourselves, warts and all, the greater the opportunity to understand God’s love for us as the only place we can discover our true worth.

 

This journey is almost impossible if our lives of ministry are consumed with busyness. To minister from a place of authenticity we have to know who we are so we can understand ourselves and through such knowing we understand something deeper of God. Surely, to engage in this way of being, to model it, ministers offer to the church far greater richness.

 

“For religion to have its greatest appeal, it must allow time for solitude. The book of Genesis lays this foundation. Within the creation story, God established Saturday, the Shabbat, as a day of rest, set aside from all others. The Shabbat was a time to contemplate one’s life and the scriptures. We can do the same, whether we take a day of rest for ourselves, or an hour of quiet prayer, or even a few minutes of meditation. Whether in a remote, faraway stillness or in the very centre of a community, the hermit or itinerant monk resides in us all.“  (Buchholz, Ester Schaler. The Call Of Solitude. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Print.)

 

I believe that as we create space for such encounter, for which the recovery of Sabbath keeping is a vital key, we will realise that in space, silence and prayer the way we experience time is changed. In busyness we experience time as crunched up, insufficient for the things we feel we need to do. In silence and prayer, where we are intentionally placing ourselves nearer the centre of our being we experience time expanding. A contemplative friend and I were talking[2] and he pointed out that so often we think of time as liner when we should think of it being on a horizontal axis and we talked about whether on that horizontal axis, the closer we stand to the divine the more deeply we experience time. This fits neatly into the Jewish theology of Sabbath, which Abraham Heschel describes as a cathedral in time, not a place to meet with God but a day to meet with God because time is a reflection of the divine in a way that place never can be because in a reflection of the divine time has no beginning or end.

 

My experience of keeping Sabbath as a spiritual practice is that in setting this time aside as holy my experience of time in the rest of the week is changed, even and perhaps most importantly the essence of busyness is changed. Perhaps that is why Sabbath can be described as God’s first and primary gift for his creation.  In intentionally experiencing time as holy – in keeping Sabbath as gift – our perception of the depth of time is enriched and becomes the foundation that we carry into the rest of the week and in which our experience of all time is framed. In this intentional weekly refocusing, our whole vision is refined and refocused so that we do see things differently because we see them as we were created to see them. We experience time more deeply and recognise the imprint of the divine in the ordinary and every day, which of course means it is not ordinary or every day at all.

 

This journey, I am beginning to believe, is best travelled by recapturing the divine rhythm of creation as expressed in Genesis as the making holy of the Sabbath and an understanding of Sabbath as divine gift to creation, as the only place where existence can be more authentically framed. It is in the framing that all life can be more clearly understood.  This living Sabbath more intentionally could be understood as an act of ministry, but ministry in a different way. God only rested on the seventh day once everything was complete, creation of Sabbath was an act of work and to reclaim it for ourselves will be one too.

 

This weekly practice when accompanied by proper retreat time – what I will call deep Sabbath and daily prayer time which I will term little Sabbaths allow for the reframing of our experience and understanding of time as a reflection of the divine in which we can live, and move and have our being and as the default setting in which a life of faith should be lived. We as ministers have a vital role, it seems to me, of modelling this way of being, which could be described as mission and witness in its deepest sense. It must also surely be transformational for us and therefore for the communities that we serve.

 

If our ministries are framed, described and experienced in the language of busyness what do we have to offer to those imprisoned by the busyness of career or responsibility? if our lives are the same what do we have to say to them. Surely in seeking to offer a ministry in which we aim for God to be revealed in love and service we need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Sabbath keeping is NOT another day off it is a different type of work, perhaps the deepest type of work in which we can be engaged? Sabbath is NOT an alternative to a day off although there will be elements within Sabbath, rest, fellowship, family time etc. which will also be common to day off. I think what I am beginning to understand about Sabbath, which the deep Sabbath of retreat has helped to clarify, is the healing work of Sabbath in taking me out of the centre of a working day and allowing God to be enthroned there, so that in and through our encounter with the divine we can be in the constant process of being recreated, a place where we can put on Christ once more so that our whole ministry, by which I mean our Christian life, is renewed.

 

Wayne Miller describes it in these words: Sabbath is more than the absence of work; it is not just a day off when we catch up on TV or errands. It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing or true. It is time consecrated with our attention, our mindfulness, honouring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us.( Muller, Wayne. Sabbath. New York: Bantam Books, 1999. Print.)

 

Lauren F. Winner writes about missing the Sabbath after her conversion to Christianity from Judaism. “Still I miss Jewish ways. I miss the rhythms and routines that draw down the sacred into the everyday”. She goes on to describe Sabbath in this way, “The Sabbath is a basic unit of Christian time, a day the church too, tries to devote to reverence of God and rest from toil”. (Winner, Lauren F. Mudhouse Sabbath. Brewster, Mass.: Paraclete Press, 2003. Print.)

 

This divine rhythm for me is understood only in the recapturing of Sabbath keeping. A day which encompasses worship, fellowship, theological reflection, rest, family time and what I am beginning to understand, may be something missing from my own practice, silence and solitude – the call of the desert. This thinking, reflection but primarily this practice of Sabbath has led me to believe that it is only when my own presence is transformed that I can in any real or meaningful way play a part in a wider process of transformation. To have a part to play, which we all surely must, I must begin with me. A transformed church will have a transformed ministry and transformed ministry will not happen without ministers, who through a deep desire for a more authentic expression of Christian life and ministry, have themselves been transformed. To understand our need for transformation we first need to realise a very deep truth about our present captivity or we will see no value in a different way of living our calling.

Re-imagining Work

The writer Mark Buchanan writes that to understand sabbath rest fully  we must also talk about work and have a theology of work, which is a point well made (Buchanan, Mark. The Rest Of God. Nashville, Tenn.: W Pub. Group, 2006. Print.).  In the Exodus passage which sees the Sabbath rest restored to the people of Israel (Ex 20:9) the people are told that six days are to be for work and the seventh day distinct by its rest. Life with God is not a life free from work as work is also part of the divine rhythm for God created six days. We must then surely understand work as part of God’s call  for us otherwise there would be no need for, or sense, in Sabbath. Work we could suggest is a core spiritual practice too. The work of ministry is full and criticism of busyness must not be understood as ignoring that important fact. What do I mean by busyness in a life of work.

Ministry has many tasks which need to be undertaken for the work of God to be fulfilled. No one would deny this truth. Does a full ministry expressed in the carrying out of many and varied tasks need to be expressed in the language or attitude of busyness? My answer would be no. Busyness in the way I speak and write about it is more about an attitude of doing the work we need to do in such a way as to suggest that the work is  more important or valuable than the rest which Sabbath was created to offer. That the Sabbath rest can be set aside in a way that suggests that the work is superior which is absolutely wrong. For it is only in the blessings that Sabbath bestows that our work can be fully understood or fruitful. You need both for the other to make sense. Sabbath and work are, at least it seems to me, co-existent. One only makes sense because of the presence of the other. When rest becomes so unimportant in our lives with God that we believe we can simply disregard it because of the pressure of work we are spiritually diseased, we are infected with busyness.

The Bishop of West Yorkshire and the Dales, Nick Baines[3] described this state wonderfully as justification by busyness! He, and the Bishop of Chelmsford[4] and Bishop of St Albans who also kindly spent time with me reflecting on this subject recognised well the model of busy clergy but all three expressed, in their own particular way, a desire for clergy to be fruitful and productive in the service of the Gospel but not at the expense of their own lives, health, joy and  paths of discipleship. All three bishops recognised the difficulty of balanced life within their own episcopal ministeries while at the same time recognising the absolute need for such balance. The Bishop of St Albans Alan Smith[5], who seeks to be faithful to a Sabbath pattern of a regular day off which as often as possible also includes the evening before, challenges clergy in his own disocese who have become over burdened with a sense of busyness to refocus. He refuses to play into the language of busyness or give it creedence in a way that could reinforce for his clergy a desired model. The Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cotterill is conscious of the language of busyness that is used in episcopal and ministerial life which can so easily, and often with great subtlety, project an image of unapproachability. He works hard with his office staff to move away from a language that highlights busyness. This seemly simple but effective guidance means that neither he, nor his office staff will speak of his busyness even if his diary is very full. If you phone up to make an appointment to see him you will be offered a date he can do rather than being told there are lots of dates he is not able to manage due to other commitments.

This relanguaging has a great deal to offer to all clergy I feel as language has a very important role to play. Those familiar with Neurolinguistic Programming will know that repeated use of talk of busyness by someone, anyone, will make that person busy because it becomes part of who they are. Busyness becomes that which gives them a sense of worth and purpose and simply feeds into a need for busyness. Professor Mike Ferguson[6] a business Psychologist recognises this phenomena well from the business community as well as his work within his faith community. In this work he, and other collegues, carried out a survey some years ago into what makes someone successful while allowing them to remain grounded and happy. They  discovered eight identifiable areas which were in balance for those who were identified, using set criteria to have a successful and happy life in the buisness community. These are health, home, family, finances, career, spirituality, recreation, and love. Mike sees no reason these values are not transferable to ministerial life. We need to have these areas in balance. If they are out of kilter it is very easy to feel out of control – that work is controlling life rather than the other way round. In psychology this is termed a locus of control. Those who have a balanced life could be said to have an internal locus of control which means the person feels in control of their own life and destiny. People with an external locus of control feel a slave to the work they do, this is seen in an unbalanced life in which the person feels controlled. This can lead to a victim mentallity which was something all three Bishops mentioned in regard to their experience of clergy, that we are often stuck in victim mentality. This would suggest that  many clergy function with an external locus of control which points to a life out of balance.

The issues here are deep and complex, tied in at their core to our identity and the beliefs and values that come from that which affect our caperbility, behaviours and environment. To be fruitful and productive we need to regain an understandning of a ministry which is ordered rather than choatic, proactive as well as reactive, foucussed and very importantly boundaried. All three bishops spoke of clergy as having poor bounary keeping and I would suggest that this is because we believe that work is about doing rather than being and our need to be of service is given more status than our need to ministered to by God in the space which Sabbath provides for. In this way our boundaries have become semi permiable! Now that is not to suggest that there are, and always will be times when pastoral emergency need to take priority just as there are things within Judiaism  (such as medical emergency) that would take priority even within Sabbath.  Sabbath offers what I have termed permissive boundary keeping in the real sense of which the Jews would understand that which Sabbath is. A time for us to step back from work because God is in charge and not us. It is for the Jews deeply important for the sabbath to be a day on which our need to be faithful to keeping God’s fourth command is valued far above anything we are able to achieve ourselves.

 

In this space lies the possibility of transformation IF we are faithful in our intention to and practice of keeping it. What I have noticed among fellow clergy, bishops and priests, is the temptation to redefine Sabbath in their own terms and in which their own practices and patterns do not need to challenged or changed – for example working on the morning of a day off to allow for a more relaxed afternoon off. This is not Sabbath nor is it rest, although it may seem that it has an essence of it, in reality it is us refusing the blessings that Sabbath offers and placing our own importance above that of the grace of God. Re-languaging will only go so far, without intention and discipline it is of no value. The permissive boundary keeping that Sabbath offers has deep theological foundations which I think would appeal to many clergy who know that within ministry life is out of kilter but are not sure how to live ministry another way. Gordon Mursell, retired Bishop of Stafford says:

So on the Sabbath day we are invited – indeed we are commanded – to step out of our me-centred, work obsessed busyness and see everything in a new light. If we can’t or won’t do this, we are unlikely to enjoy the eternity God longs for us to share, for that eternity is described in the Letter to the Hebrews as a Sabbath rest, which ‘still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labours as God did from His’ (Heb 4: 9-10). By keeping the Sabbath, we catch a glimpse of all that is yet to be – of the world as God always intended it to be, and of the unique potential and future that each of us can experience when we live by grace and not work alone. (Mursell, Gordon. “Enjoying The Sabbath”. ReSource 2010:  Print.)

 We cannot create the Sabbath in a way that will let us continue to live as we do, without addressing our practices and what they say about us or our theology of grace. We cannot recognize justification by busyness in others unless we are prepared to address first in ourselves (Matt 7:5 ‘You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’), just as an adddict cannot carry on using in a way that they declare is not problematic. I am sure we all recognise the alcoholic who refuses to acknowledge his addiction and justifies his morning drinking as that which he needs to get through his day. In addicts we call this denial, in professionals we celebrate it as dedication. In addiction it is the road to institutionalised treatment, in professionals it can often be the road  to promotion.

The addiction parallel, although it may seem like a strange choice might be more relavent than is  immediately obvious. It is recognised in the field of neuroscience that to work in a constant state of busyness raises the levels of adrenaline and cortisol in the brain. If we are contantly in such a state our brains can become affected and we can become reliant on such levels to function – addicted if you like. These raised levels are a natural part of our physiology and is what we need for the fight or flight response to danger and is therefore important in the preservation of life. For ancient man it served his needs brilliantly. If you came face to face with a Saber toothed tiger you needed to either kill it or run like hell to escape it, or you were dead. The running or killing needed higher levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to give you the best chance at either and both the exertion of fight or flight would assist in the purging of these hormones from the system because they were no longer needed.

Busyness can have the same effect on our system with the release of these hormones but without the kill or flight response the levels of these hormones remain elevated, and with constant busyness remain so. This then leads to physical and emotional problems linked to this state. Prolonged high levels of stress hormones increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke and may lead to structural alterations in the brain’s memory and fear processing centers. High levels of stress hormones also make it easier for cancer to spread, reports a research team in the April 2010 issue of “Journal of Clinical Investigation.” It also has a part to play in axiety and depression, digestive problems, sleep problems and memory and concentration impairment.

When we face the reality of the situation we perhaps see the absurdity and perhaps obscenity of the models of ministry that have developed in the church, and are indeed part of everyday life for many of our people. Busyness is not justifying us –  it is killing us, and once we grasp this reality we have no choice but to grasp the nettle and do something about it.

The inactivity of divinely given Sabbath is a perfect antidote to this, God in his creation has blessed us with the medicine for this now chronic condition in our society and yet we as people of faith, and ministers of the Gospel reject such grace. There is surely now an urgency to address these issues, to hold each other to account for poor practice at all levels, for behaviour that speaks not of our belovedness from  but reveals our captivity by the world. For the church to transform we must both live and offer transformation for life, a life lived deeply in God. We cannot preach or offer what we reject ourselves, bishops, archdeacons, vicars or curates – ministry at every level must reflect this without exception. To do that we must first understand the illness from which many are suffering  before we can seek appropriate treatment or offer advice to others.

In my years as a nurse I saw all too often what long hours could do to junior doctors, which is very topical at this time. We were always aware on the acute paediatric unit of the need to offer greater support and scrutiny of someone who had been on call all weekend and would possibly have had very little sleep, we would need to be a little more careful in checking drug dosage for example as tired doctors more easily made mistakes. In life I would not be happy to see a GP if I knew they had not had a day off for a month, I would consider that totally unacceptable because of the way tiredness and stress can affect  memory and judgement – why then is it anymore acceptable to expect people to be happy to see clergy who may be in the same position. If I, as a priest, need to seek counsel from my Bishop I want the same as I expect from my GP, perhaps even more. We need to re-establish balance in the ministerial lfe, to encourage  and reward good practice, we need to challenge poor practice at all levels not least out of love for those we minister with and who have responsibility and oversight for us as we have for the people within the context in which we serve.

There is a very real truth that when we are lost in busyness we somehow expect others to be as lost in the busyness as we are. It was only a few months ago that I found myself annoyed and rather put out when a parishoner expressed an unwillingness to meet on a Sunday afternoon because this would be working on her Sabbath. It took me a few minutes to realise the absurdity of my reaction in light of what I was seeking to create for my own life and ministry, and reminded me sharply how easily we infect others in busyness by our own expectations. The same is of course true for all of us and is, I fear, even harder to recognise if our own lives are out of balance, we infect others with our own poor practice without ever knowing we ourselves are contagious!.

But work is important and Sabbath keeping is no excuse for laziness, when God creates man in Genesis 2 it is to entrust the man with the work of cultivating that which God has created and declared to be good. He places man in the garden. This cultivation in our modern world takes many forms which exist together from Prime Minister to lavatory attendant, in and through  which that cultivation continues. We are all called to particular parts of this cultivation depending on the gifts and talents we have and we all recognise the joy in those who really enjoy their work and find fulfilment in it, they are fulfilling their vocation – literally, the work that the voice told you to do. That surely must form a central structure in any theology of work. Yes work can involve much responsibility, there can be many tasks that need to be done, the hours might be long but within it there needs to be a place of delight, or as the writer of Ecclesiastes (3:12-13) puts it:  I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.

I think an important illustration of this can be recognised in the calling of the fishermen. If you read Luke’s account in 5:1-11 it is interesting to note the order of events. When Jesus encounters the fisherman they are in their boats mending their nets after what we later find is out a fruitless night’s fishing. Jesus gets into a boat to teach the crowd. Perhaps he senses the dejection of the fisherman who had toiled all night for no reward for he does not then call the fishermen to discipleship – dejection is not the right attitude in which to understand their calling. First Jesus invites the fishermen to push out from the shore and lower their nets for a catch. The tired fishermen are not in the mood, they are sick of being fishermen! But they do as Jesus asks and are rewarded with an enormous catch of fish. They are filled with excitement and are reminded of the joy of their vocation. They are now in the right attitude to understand the call of Jesus in the words he uses. I will make you fishers of men. He does not want dejected fishermen to become dejected fishers of men. The miraculous catch of fish has given them back their joy and love for what  they do and this is the attitude that Jesus wants them to carry into being fishers of men. The same is true for us all. Our work, with all its challenges, all it’s routine, all its frustration, all its delight is given that in our own way of cultivating the garden we may become more deeply who we are called to be.  Work isn’t a punishment, it is a blessing but it needs rest to be appreciated most deeply. If we decide that rest is expendable in the demands of work we lose the blessing of both.

Conclusions, possible applications in development

The transformation of Ministry to serve/enable a transformed church is well rehearsed. In Febraury 2015 General Synod spoke of ‘a flourishing ministry in a growing church’. The vision has five principles:

  • every minister equipped to offer collaborative leadership in mission and to be adaptable in a rapidly changing context.
  • a cohort of candidates for ministry who are younger, more diverse and with a wider range of gifts to serve God’s mission.
  • an increase of at least 50% in ordinations on 2013 figures sustained annually from 2020.
  • the rapid development of lay ministries.
  • a continued commitment to an ordained and lay ministry which serves the whole church both geographically and in terms of church tradition. (Croft, Steven. Resourcing Ministerial Education In The Church Of England. Church of England, 2015. Web. Jan. 2015).

This is an exciting, if somewhat daunting, vision which will I am sure require much ‘doing’ in all sorts of ways. But for this vision to be succesful models of ministry must be sustainable in the long term. It will call for men and women already engaged in ministry to examine deeply their present model of ministering and be ready to make changes. There will need to be a meeting place where the ministeries of newly ordained and licensed  and those engaged in traditional models of ministry can overlap to learn from each other for the mutual upbuilding of each and the flourishing of the church. This space will need to be a place of deep theological reflection, creativity and vision, excitement and inspiration, challenge and mutual accountability.

For new models of ministry we need, I believe to have a deeper understanding of some of the challenges of our present models and which I have sought to identify as part of this piece of work . If, as I believe, many clergy are ‘trapped’ in busyness they are not in the best place to begin there important developments for the life of the church. Ruby Wax (Twitter conversation) the comedienne and mental health campaigner who studied for a Masters Degree in Neuroscience talks about how difficult it is to take on board new ways of being when we are stuck in patterns of behaviour that are linked to the neurochemistry of the brain. Ms Wax  is a proponent of mindlefulness as a way to allow the brain to purge itself of the toxic levels of stress hormones that keep us in a state of anxiety (or busyness) so that we can find again a space for creativity and learning new things.

If clergy are to be effective in learning new patterns which church growth figures and projections suggest they will absolutely need to, we must first create the very best enviroment for change to occur. If we do not take this seriously then we are in danger of calling dejected fishermen to be come dejected fishers of men. To move forward we must first remind ministers, perhaps show them for the first time that there is a different and better way to do what we are already doing,  that we might accept new challenge in the appropriate state of mind for a new mission field.

If we are not in the right emotional place new developments seem to us unobtainable and we, believing the only way to do something new is to become even busier, become ever more mired by the chemistry of the brain and less able to accept the changes that are necessary for this new vision of ministry to really flourish. So first we have to find ways for people to stop, find balance and the place of delight. Sabbath is God’s provision of such a space in every seven days in every human life in the sacramental nature of the fourth commandment.

So how can we create more balanced models of ministry in the here and now?  First we have to name the problem and allow people to understand how that problem manifests itself in ministerial life and how destructive it is to our personhood. We need there to be a brutally honest presentation of the dangers of our present model and at the same time concrete strategies proposed offering new ways that are theologically grounded and Christ centered. We need to help people to see in a way that makes them want to minister differently for their own health, the health of their families and faith communities. We need to help people to understand that work offered seven days a week might appear productive (i.e. a lots of tasks might be carried out) but what is the quality of the decisions and thought processes that go into carrying those tasks out?

 

We need to find ways to challenge present patterns without being condemnatory because the vast majority of ministers will not have set out to do anything negative , but with the very best intentions and in ways which were passed down to them often by people they deeply respected and admired. This is a real challenge and can only be tackled at parish or chaplaincy level if at the same time it is being tackled visibly at senior levels. If our Bishops and Archdeacons are not on message either in the way they minister or in the message they give then such an initiative is much more likely to fail.

 

Sabbath at its heart is about rhythm and discipline so do our religious houses have anything to offer in this regard. Fr Thomas Seville[7] of the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield  recognised that even within community life there were busy monks. As we talked however it became clear that religious life does have anchors in place to counter this from becoming destructive either to an individual or the community. In community, Sabbath (Sunday) is a day distinct from all others which underpins the rest of monastic life. Then there are two or three retreats in community life each year as well as regular quiet days. These form the rhythm of religious life which together with the regular recitation of the Offices and celebration of the Eucharist form the backbone of faith lived in community. For those living in community commitment to their chosen vocation brings with it an obligation to live a life where time is more consciously hallowed so that each may walk ever more closely to God. Surely this is in many ways the same for all who seek to live a life of faith. Preists though, must seek to live this hallowing of time more faithfully not only because it is commanded by God and lived in the life of Jesus but because we are to be examples to our people and reflect life in all its fullness.

Peter Scazzero in speaking on emotionally healthy models of leadership for the church speaks of Sabbath as a core spiritual formation discipline which is indispensible for our growth – ‘an essential delivery mechanism for God’s grace…It provides a God-ordained way to slow us down for meaningful connection with God, ourselves, and those we care about.( Scazzero, Peter. The Emotionally Healthy Leader. Print.).

He continues to talk about our resistance to Sabbath keeping and suggests this is in major part because our practice has degenerated into either legalism or licentiousness. Scazzero defines legalism as relying on our own obedience to gain God’s acceptance. Licentiousness, he defines as an abuse of God’s grace by completely disregarding it. What has been identified above must surely be regarded as sin and as such  there is a need for repentance – literally turning back to God who waits for us in the cathedral in time that is Sabbath. These twin temptations of either seeking to make Sabbath keeping fit our present behaviour or just simply ignoring Sabbath keeping all together as irrelevant is recognised above. How then can the church be clear about the expectations of living the grace of God, particularly among its clergy as spiritual practicioners and guides?

Neurolinguistic programming is a reminder of the power of language leading to practice. How might we utilize this is a way that is positive? Perhaps a simple rule of life is needed which forms part of documentation signed by priest, bishop and (in the parish context), church wardens at a service or licensing and induction. This initial document which would need to contain ‘givens’ for example praying the offices, studying the scriptures, annual retreat and quiet days as well as a very clear commitment to keeping Sabbath as boundaried time. This document  could be adapted to fit the local  context but not move away from the core principles which anchor good practice in ministerial life. This document could then form part of the ongoing ministerial development review.

There will need to be a real push within vacancies where role descriptions and parish profiles are being formulated to reinforce for parishioners the vital nature of life work balance. Many parish profiles are grounded in doing rather than being but I was both surprised and heartened when I looked at posts advertised in the Church Times to assure myself of the truth of this to find in a parish profile from the Lincoln Diocese the following written by the parish to potential post holders:

 

IN RETURN WE WILL:

  •         support you in taking proper days off and holidays.
  •         support you if you wish to take an annual retreat and, where possible, offer

financial support in this regard.

  •         be willing to encourage and facilitate training for lay ministry.
  •         give you the space to develop your own ideas.
  •         consider new ideas and challenges with flexibility and positivity.
  •         continue to raise and pay our parish share in full
  •         communicate with and listen to you.

 

This statement perhaps strengthened by the substitution of the word support to something like ‘We will expect you to take a regular day off as, set forth in your rule of life as an example in the church and to the wider community of the need for life/work balance. This formula would also be appropriate for vacancy-in-see committees and Diocesan job discriptions for the appointment of Bishops, Archdeacons and other senior staff. This together with the rule of life could begin to speak powerfully of a different expectation that does not negate the work of ministry of the role to be filled but speaks as a church of our understanding as life valued in all its fullness.

 

New patterns of ministry, if they are to be healthy will need life/work balance highlighted from the beginning of selection. Life/work balance would need to be studied during academic formation. This would set in place a theological grounding for ongoing practice in the life of each minister,  but it would also equip ministers to speak within ministry of the theological grounding and importance of life lived as God ordained.

 

Poor practice in established clergy is far more difficult to address. It could be counter productive to do so in a way  that would be viewed as patronising or dictatorial (though in reality that might be what is needed). But if poor patterns of practice are not to be handed down we would need to address this particularity for those entrusted with the training of curates.  Training incumbents could be required to demonstrate their own good practice in life work balance for which an adapted MDR might help. This would also  I think encourage parishes to take some ownership of their commitment and care of clergy – if poor practice affected such a thing as placement of Curates.

 

Countering poor practice for all clergy, when it is well established and their model seems to be effective, and based in received floored ideology is, I think, very difficult to address. I have seen this personally when speaking to a group of clergy on a leadership training programme about Sabbath keeping. The challenge of the task however should not stop us from tackling the problem.  Re-languaging could really help.  I was struck by the Bishop of St Albans who when he encounters clergy who are immersed in busyness challenges them, but brings people up short  with the suggestion that the person concerned needs either a work consultant or Psychologist (to which could easily be added Spiritual Director). I think this refusal to collude in such talk  is helpful in breaking the kudos that often surrounds poor practice on the one hand and victim mentality that develops on the other.

 

Another possible way to address the current problem might be the appointment of Archdeaconary Well-being officers. They could work under the umbrella of the CMD office and as part of the MDR process in seeking to establish good patterns of practice. They could begin their relationship with clergy  as part of induction programmes that become mandatory when people take up post as well as regular work in clergy chapters to encourage healthy peer accountability and also play a role in helping clergy re-language. They would work with those coming into post to formulate their rule of life  and in the reviewing it with individual clergy in preparation for MDR. I did initailly wonder if it should be mandatory reporting of the inability to take a day of (sometimes obviously for valid reasons) in this way the diocese could reinforce its care of clergy and at the same time be aware of areas where problems may develop. In this way  training and support could be offered in recognition of the dangers posed to long term health if poor practice is not addressed. This then when would come from a place of care rather than criticism.

 

There would obviously also need to be a mechanism of accountability for senior staff to identify and address similar poor practice to show deeply our care for those entrusted with such great responsibility and our wish for them to have healthy and productive ministry.

 

To assist in this such commitment could form part of the re-affirmation of vows for Bishops, Priests and Deacons at the Maundy Thursday Chrism Eucharist. All this would I think support for present clergy and for new ministers a re commitment to a balanced and full life in God which Jesus promises to those who follow him.

 

This recognition is not only for clergy or ministers, it is for all people and forms part of mission. Many people in the places that we minister are also held captive by busyness. Just before Christmas I was speaking to a young dad in my parish with two children and one soon to be born. He had two weeks leave over Christmas but when I commented how good this was he stated in all seriousness that after only two days he was climbing the walls. His job is very high powered and intense. For him and for many of our people we need to speak of a different way of being where we have time to enjoy the whole of life rather than being a slave to only one aspect of it. (Move to Drs etc above)

 

Business is increasingly taking life/work balance issues seriously because they have become only too aware that poor life/work balance leads to increased sickness and poor performance through which both productivity, and more importantly in our consumer driven world, profitability are adversely affected. It is interesting, I would suggest, that business and its concerns are addressing something that the Church is struggling to address by challenging poor practice when we could also point to declining attendance in a similar way (simplistic I know but interesting all the same).

 

With a regaining of divine rhythm which Sabbath offers  maybe a rethink on Sabbatical. What if every full time stipendiary clergy person and SSM was expected to take a seven week sabbatical every seven years. In this time there would be an encouragement to do something specifically to designed to deepen the ministers own discipleship, to explore the inner landscape and drink from the wellspring of life. How this would work for SSm’s would need to be explored and adapted but sometime away from Parish duties could be offered. This would obviously need clergy to work  far more collaboratively across deaneries and ministry units but would offer a further development in the hallowing of time in a time poor world.

 

Bibliography

 

References

Augustine, and E. B Pusey. The Confessions Of St. Augustine. Waiheke Island: Floating Press, 2008. Print.

Borg, Marcus J. Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994. Print.

Bourgeault, Cynthia. Centering Prayer And Inner Awakening. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2004. Print.

Buchanan, Mark. The Rest Of God. Nashville, Tenn.: W Pub. Group, 2006. Print.

Buchholz, Ester Schaler. The Call Of Solitude. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Print.

Collins, Nina L. Jesus, The Sabbath And The Jewish Debate. Print.

Croft, Steven. Resourcing Ministerial Education In The Church Of England. Church of England, 2015. Web. Jan. 2015.

Dawn, Marva J. Keeping The Sabbath Wholly. Print.

Eskenazi, Tamara Cohn, Daniel J Harrington, and William H Shea. The Sabbath In Jewish And Christian Traditions. New York: Crossroad, 1991. Print.

Martin, Troy. “But Let Everyone Discern The Body Of Christ (Colossians 2:17)”. Journal of Biblical Literature 114.2 (1995): 249. Web.

Merton, Thomas. Conjectures Of A Guilty Bystander. New York: Doubleday, 1989. Print.

Muller, Wayne. Sabbath. New York: Bantam Books, 1999. Print.

Mursell, Gordon. “Enjoying The Sabbath”. ReSource 2010: n. pag. Print.

Sarna, Nahum M. Exploring Exodus. New York: Schocken Books, 1986. Print.

Scazzero, Peter. The Emotionally Healthy Leader. Print.

Winner, Lauren F. Mudhouse Sabbath. Brewster, Mass.: Paraclete Press, 2003. Print.

Ziesler, J. A. Pauline Christianity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990. Print.

 

Acknowledgments:

My thanks to Rev Geoff Read and the Diocese of Chelmsford for making this Sabbatical leave possible. The Ven Robin King for his theological supervision. To Sue and Lance Blake TSSF who provided space for me to stop and offered wisdom in my work . To Dr Jonathan Gorsky for his reflections on Sabbath keeping as a Jew in a secularized world. To the Bishops of Chelmsford, St Albans and West Yorkshire and the Dales for their reflections, challenges, and honesty. To Professor Mike Ferguson for his help, insights and encouragement. To Helen Wilkins for proof reading on a number of occasions and pointing out where things needed to be altered or edited, To the people who I have the privilege to serve and work among who constantly inspire me. To my colleagues with whom I keep Sabbath, as together we have understood something of what we have lost. To my partner Jochen for his continual  love and support

[1] From correspondence with Lance and Sue Blake who run the Fenland Hermitage retreat in Lincolnshire.

[2] Conversation with Lance Blake TSSF at Fenland Hermitage during retreat 23-25 November 2015

[3] During an interview on at Hollin House in Leeds on Friday 29th January 2016

[4] During an interview at Bishopscourt on Monday 1st February 2016

[5] During an interview on Monday 8th February at Abbeygate House in St Albans

[6] During an interview on Friday 5th February 2016 in Stisted, Essex

[7] During an interview at The Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield , January 2016)