This summer, Stony Point Center is pleased to offer three Pastoral Sabbath sessions on June 28-29, July 26-27 and Aug 30-31. These workshops are created and guided by Rev. Leslie Mott. Thanks to the generous sponsorship of Hudson River Presbytery and the PC (USA) Synod of the Northeast, the cost is subsidized for ordained clergy. Register at stonypointcenter.org/pastoral-sabbath and read on for more details!
The Pastoral Sabbath Project
by Rev. Leslie Mott
When I came to Hudson River Presbytery as a pastor in 2004, I was given great advice: “Have an accountability group and some kind of support network; make time for regular rest, don’t neglect exercise and family obligations, and keep healthy boundaries. Good luck, and Welcome!”
I think I did pretty well, overall. But I found there was little formal structure in place to ensure that this happens — other than training in a few specific areas, such as mandated boundary training workshops, given as an annual or semi-annual event. This is how it is — it’s nobody’s fault, it’s not a lack of leadership, just one of those things that traditionally is up to the individual to prioritize. As a result, self-care, Sabbath keeping, time for personal renewal and professional discernment and reflection are often pushed to the bottom of the pastoral “to do” list. At least they were on mine.
Over the last few years, I have come to discern a new call and vocation for clergy care, and developed a passion for the justice of a Sabbath for church leaders. I believe our practice as part of the priesthood of all believers begins with our own transformation in our relationship with God. And this is an essential equipping for our leading of the people of God, and our institutions, into transformation.
The first incarnation of the Pastoral Sabbath was in October of 2015 at Holmes Camp and Conference Center, with Peter Surgenor and I talking about the request from clergy to have a place and time of their own for retreats. We talked about what it might look like, the length of time and the content. I’ve discovered that 24 hours strikes a good balance: short enough for busy clergy to step away from responsibilities without major planning, and long enough for real renewal to occur.
Currently the Pastoral Sabbath is housed at Stony Point Center, and three sessions are being offered this summer: June 28-29, July 26-27 and Aug 30-31. Those attending receive materials for reflection and study and have the opportunity to engage in gentle yoga class, guided meditation, group and individual spiritual direction, and prayer. There will also be opportunities morning worship, a time for fellowship for meals, and free time for rest or engage in other relaxation like walking, reading the paper, even taking a nap. “Bliss!” as one participant put it.
Thanks to the generous sponsorship of Hudson River Presbytery and the PC (USA) Synod of the Northeast, this retreat is subsidized for ordained clergy.
Over the few years that I have been leading this Sabbath, I have witnessed the deep hunger for community and care that we as Pastors yearn for. The response to this 24 hour experience has been overwhelmingly positive. One pastor, hearing his name lifted in prayer, spoke in tears afterward; “I didn’t know I needed that this much.” On the national front, there is increasing awareness of the crucial need for leadership development and care that goes beyond competence. Recently, a division of the Board of Pensions for the PC (USA), Board University, collaborating with The Presbyterian Foundation sent an invitation to a “Well-Being Retreat” at Montreat Conference Center that included, among other things, workshops on mindfulness and stress release, nutrition, and exercise.
My hope is that spiritual health and renewal becomes a standard practice for my friends and colleagues, and that increased mindfulness, physical health, and long term sustainability are possible for all of us in this work of ministry. My vision is that a Pastoral Sabbath becomes part of the working practices of every church Session. My dream is that a Pastoral Sabbath becomes part of the working practices of every Presbytery.
If we are to serve God with energy, imagination, intelligence and love, if we are in this for the long haul; if we are to run this race, then we must participate in an ethos of care for those who serve. We must not only remember but practice the knowledge that “in returning and rest we can be saved” (Isaiah 30:15) The time has come for the church to honor Christ’s call for its leaders, “to come away by yourselves and rest for a while,” so that we may return renewed to those we serve. May it be so!
Go to stonypointcenter.org/pastoral-sabbath to register for the next Pastoral Sabbath. To learn more about Pastoral Sabbath opportunities, email Rev. Leslie.