A Sabbath Year: Rest, Reset, Renew
Sabbath is a gift from Creator God to all creation. The story of our beginnings opens with an invitation to sabbath—to take regular pause to delight in the gifts of God in creation. Most of us are familiar with the weekly pattern of sabbath built into the days of creation when on the last day of creating in Genesis 1, Creator God rested and gave us the gift of delight. In addition to the weekly pattern, the people of God were also called to sabbath years when all creation rested. Land was to lay fallow so that it could be renewed, farmers were to rest and eat from provisions and produce that grew without cultivation. Every seven cycles of yearly rest, or every forty-nine years, was a special year of sabbath called Jubilee. Like all sabbath years, this was a year of rest. But more than that, it was a year of reset—land was to be returned to its original tribal families, debts were forgiven, and slaves were set free.
In September 2022, FBCH celebrates its 195th anniversary. As we continue living in pandemic-shaped time and approach a generational turning point in the life of our church, I believe this is a time to celebrate sabbath together—to make this a year of Rest, Reset, and Renewal.
Community worship, festival, and feasting were at the centre of sabbath rest in ancient Israel. Rest itself is rooted in the work of delight—delighting in creation and community. Sabbath calls us to an intentional time of celebration as a community and thanksgiving to God. As we continue living into the new normal of pandemic-shaped time, our most important work is to bring the FBCH community together in worship and to do so with a sense of joyful thanksgiving (both in person and online). Along with our regular worship, this is a season to consider how we gather for fellowship to rebuild our connections to one another and welcome the many new people joining our congregational family.
Sabbath years were meant to be significant years of reset. FBCH is poised to complete critical congregational work to help us reset for a future of vitality. Our FBCH ancestors have given us many gifts, but we are also holding onto “debts” from our past—a strained financial model, a building designed for the baby-boom generation of children, an unsustainable governance structure, and a staffing model that reflects realities of past congregations. The work of sabbath involves resetting these foundational operational structures so that we can support renewal in the years to come.
A year of reset is a good year for us to consider: What are we doing that brings life to our congregation and larger community? What are we doing because we’ve always done it that way but may not be serving us well now? What do we really want to do? In the spirit of sabbath, what do we want to release ourselves from?
The promise of Israel is that God will bless them so that they in turn will be a blessing to all the families of the world (this is the original covenant God makes with Abraham and Sarah). Sabbath-keeping is rooted in justice and the call to return again to the work of caring for neighbours, reverently tending the natural world, and welcoming strangers into our community. Along with the work of resetting our internal structures, sabbath is a call to build upon our work of renewal which is always a work of justice.
Like all of you, I wish I had more clarity about how COVID will continue to impact our community in the months and years ahead. Congregations like FBCH found it challenging pre-COVID to know how best to plan for a vibrant future; COVID has made discerning a way forward all the more challenging. My prayer is that in the midst of uncertainty, FBCH can centre on the call to Rest in worship and fellowship while continuing the work to Reset our structures so that we can focus on Renewal in the years ahead. May our 195th anniversary call us into a Year of Sabbath.