‘Experience the rest God calls us to enjoy,’ workshop speaker says
by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Emily Schwenker suggested practices for activists to engage in for their own spiritual health during this year’s Presbyterians for Earth Care conference, which is taking place on three consecutive weekends of this month, continuing Aug. 8 and 15.
In addition to discussing prayer, appreciating “the miracles all around us” and the importance of saying “no” to things that crowd out God, Schwenker emphasized the importance of rest and Sabbath keeping.
“God’s miracles are all around us, but we need to stop or at least slow down a little in order to see them,” explained Schwenker, who’s ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) to the validated specialized ministry of spiritual direction. “Overworked, overscheduled, overcommitted Americans need rest. And we need to be reminded that we do not cause the grain to grow. And that our greatest sense of fulfillment does not and should not come from acquiring achieving, consuming, possessing and producing.”
Schwenker, who served as adjunct faculty at Lancaster Theological Seminary, spoke during the conference titled “Creation Care Buffet: Come to the Table,” which features Bible studies, worship, breakout sessions, music and workshops on topics related to environmental justice and protecting the planet in the midst of climate change and increasing natural disasters.
Marrying environmentalism with the importance of personal well-being, Schwenker said, “Not only do we need to rest from being the workhorses of our lives, but our planet needs a rest from our human using and burning and buying and selling. We need Sabbath time.”
Later, while discussing the importance of worship, Schwenker encouraged the audience to take some personal responsibility instead of relying solely on their pastors or other worship leaders.
“We can prepare ahead of time for Sunday worship by revitalizing our practice of personal worship, taking the time daily, or at least several times a week, to pray, to read Scripture,” she said. “We can make use of the daily lectionary that’s available on the PC(USA) website, or a daily devotional. Or we can meet with a small group for Bible study. Faithfully practicing just one of these will enhance Sunday morning worship experience.”
She also spoke about the value of not being in a rush. “Whether you’re worshiping in person or still enjoying pajama church, show up early to prepare yourself to worship God from your heart,” she said. “Take time to pray for your worship leaders, for those who will be attending the service, for those who could not be there. Ask the Holy Spirit to be actively present and known by the gathered community” and pray that “your particular congregation might be faithful in its worship and its mission.”
Other useful behaviors include listening closely during the service, praying about whatever God has laid on your heart and taking time afterward to speak with worship leaders and planners — in a constructive way — about how you experience worship, Schwenker said.
“In a church I served a couple years ago, someone expressed a desire for a time of silent reflection, following the Prayer of Confession and before the Assurance of Pardon,” she said. “We incorporated that into the service and heard from a number of folks that it was much more meaningful for them.”
She acknowledged that leaders may need a separate time of worship for themselves and that it might be on a different day.
“For those of you who are pastors and find it difficult to have a worship experience within your own congregational setting, I encourage you to find a Sabbath worship practice” that draws you closer to God, she said.
She mentioned a former minister who would practice Sabbath on Mondays with this wife by doing things like taking long drives in the country and going hiking. Other ideas include taking a break from distractions, such as multitasking, technology, media, shopping, sports, even things like talking and fear and anxiety.
“Paul’s letter to the Galatians says, ‘For freedom, Christ has set us free,’” she said. “So what is it that we need to stop in order to experience the rest God calls us to enjoy so that we might be the overflow of God’s love? A life of compassion must include compassion for all things, including oneself.”
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