Theology of Sabbath and Clergy Care
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Clergy have a responsibility to balance the care and nurturing of their congregations with their own self-care. To achieve this balance, clergy need both permission and clearly articulated expectations for self-care from seminaries, diocese, and parishes. In a questionnaire administered to clergy concerning their experiences of educational and supervising institutions, clergy responded overwhelmingly that they had received little to no permission or training in caring for their own souls as an aspect of parish ministry. The Biblical imperative for times of rest and recreation are clear. Both creation stories in Genesis introduce the concept of Sabbath. God’s expectation that the chosen people would keep a Sabbath day of rest is clearly stated and is one of the Ten Commandments. This time of rest provided a way for God’s people to remain faithful to their God as creator and liberator. Ultimately, Sabbath became the symbol of the fulfillment of God’s purpose for them and for all creation. For the Hebrew people, Sabbath-keeping became a way to nurture and affirm their relationship with God as the creator, liberator, and completer of all things. An understanding of the Old Testament teaching concerning Sabbath, combined with teachings from such noted authors as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Tilden Edwards, illuminates how Sabbath practice provides an ideal foundation for soul care. The New Testament continues the discussion of Sabbath theology. The gospel conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees over Sabbath center on how the faithful could honor God and experience God’s compassion through keeping Sabbath. When Jesus invites those who are overburdened to come to him and he will give them rest (Matthew 11:28-30), he identifies himself as Sabbath incarnate. Jesus affirms the value of Sabbath as an eschatological breaking in of God’s continued purposes and affirms the goodness of Sabbath when he calls others to rest in him. Sabbath is no longer just a day living in relationship with God; in Jesus, Sabbath is relationship with God. This understanding of Sabbath and soul care can enable clergy to cultivate a way of life that pays attention to the soul and the need for resting in Christ. Critical aspects of developing a spiritual discipline of Sabbath-keeping include a sound theology of work as a gift from God and without which humans are not whole, a conceptualization of time as both kairos and chronos with Sabbath as the meeting of the two, and an understanding of Sabbath rest as more than vacation time or a faithful keeping of one’s day off. For clergy to move into a practice of care for their souls, they need a disciplined spiritual life supported by peer groups and the education of their parishes and judicatories on the value of self-care. Providing this type of supportive environment can give permission for self-care as well as encourage and promote it. A practice of Sabbath informed by a Christological spirituality could establish a firm foundation for clergy wanting to attend to the health of their souls. Seminaries, judicatories, and others involved in clergy formation should pay particular attention to teaching new clergy the principles of Sabbath as spiritual discipline, and parishes and judicatories need to support clergy who intentionally engage in the care of their souls. Sabbath-keeping can be the spiritual cornerstone for self-care, and clergy need to recognize the spiritual necessity of this practice.
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