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Evangelism conference to explore new way of being together as Presbyterians


Gathering of Sabbath community and people ‘like no other conference you’ve gone to’

 by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Mission Agency Coordinator for Christian Formation, Jason Brian Santos, is leading this year’s Evangelism conference at Zephyr Point, Lake Tahoe October 15-19. Because this conference on Sabbath Rest Holy Surrender Full Life is intentionally designed like “no other Presbyterian conference,” Presbyterian News Service talked with Santos to find out what those attending the conference will learn and experience.

 Jason, who are the keynote speakers for this conference?

We’re not approaching the Evangelism conference on Sabbath from the more traditional model of speakers: keynote, followed by plenaries, followed by workshops, followed by a preacher during a worship service. It’s too much. At so many conferences people are inundated by too much information, only to leave feeling like they just drank from a fire hose. Unable to synthesize that much information, they end up only taking a few memorable quotes or broader ideas with them.

So we started to ask, ‘does this type of conference really lead to sustainable transformation for the participants and their ministries?’ We wanted to design a different type of gathering, and we wanted to center it on a central topic — one which people could delve into deeply. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t just talk about a subject, but that we gave the participants a way to experience it as well. We wanted to our learning to relate to a life — and in their particular ministry environment, alongside people in other ministry environments.

 So why choose Sabbath Rest Holy Surrender Full Life as the topic to go deeper in?

Deeper engagement into what Sabbath is, what’s it’s not, what it should be and how it can live it out in our everyday lives and ministry is critical for sustainable formation in ministry. We recognize it might seem like an atypical pairing to put Sabbath alongside evangelism. But at the core of Sabbath—we find a witness to who we are called to be in community. In Sabbath, we fully realize our relationship to God and authentically begin to live that out by engaging in relationships with others. In doing, so we bear witness to Christ’s reconciliation. There’s no greater evangelistic witness to God’s covenant community than in a community itself — a people who are reconciled.

The ecumenical, monastic community of Taizé draws over 100,000 young people every year — in part, because they experience a true expression of Sabbath. This year’s Evangelism conference at Zephyr Point, Sabbath Rest Holy Surrender Full Life hopes to offer this ethos, by both exploring Sabbath and ushering people into a rhythm where they experience Sabbath together. (Photo by Katherine Hester)

But who is the speaker and what will a typical day look like?

I’m actually doing the primary teaching, but we’re also bringing in other voices to explore this topic, both national staff and outside voices on the topic. We’re hoping to cast a Reformed perspective on being a Sabbath community and people while honoring the rich tradition of Jewish Shabbat and attending to our modern contextualization of the practice.

As for a typical day, we’ll have breakfast and morning prayers followed by a time of teaching and then discussion groups that will dig into the day’s emphasis. After lunch, there will be open time to take in the beauty of Lake Tahoe, go for a hike or simply rest, followed by ‘community groups’ to translate the conversation into their vocational context of their particular ministry. After dinner, we’ll have evening prayers and fellowship.

Why are you so passionate about Sabbath and the daily rhythm of this conference?

At Princeton Theological Seminary my dissertation was on the Taizé community and the doctrine of Sabbath. This ecumenical, monastic community that draws over 100,000 young people, every year, fascinated me. I wanted to know what made it tick. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. I can’t tell you the number of times over the years that people ask me, “What’s Taizé’s secret? How do they get so many young adults to come pray with them?”

After over a decade of research, I’ve come to believe, that it’s not the chants; nor is it the contemplative nature of the community — or even that it’s in France. I believe, young people go to Taizé, because they experience a true expression of Sabbath. In one week, they feel like they belong, like it’s their spiritual home, because they’ve dwelt in a Sabbath community. We’re hoping to offer this ethos at our Evangelism conference. By not only exploring this perspective, but also by ushering people into a rhythm, where we begin to experience Sabbath together.

I heard that you’re turning your dissertation into a book for InterVarsity Press, called After Paradise. Will that be explored in the conference?

Absolutely. In my research, young people actually describe Taizé with phrases like, “It’s the Kingdom of God,” “It’s heaven on earth,” and “It’s paradise.”This view shapes how they leave Taizé. As we depart from Zephyr Point we’ll ask, “How do we leave transformative experiences in a retreat-like setting and sustain the formation that happened for the weeks and months to come?” New-Reformed theologian Karl Barth calls this process of leaving, “a glad descent.” As people practice and engage in what Sabbath is, we hope, they too will genuinely leave this way.

In the end, it’s designed to confront the very things we’ve found problematic about conferences. It will be like no other conference you’ve gone to. As we grow in our understanding of Sabbath together, we hope to learn how we might more faithfully gather as a denomination in what we’ve traditionally called conferences.


For more information and to register for Sabbath Rest Holy Surrender Full Life go to

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