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‘I remembered what it was like to let my spirit breathe’

Putting work down, the pastor of church and worshiping community is grateful for a week of Sabbath

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Debbie Bronkema is pastor of Pleasantville Presbyterian Church in New York and founder of (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Thanks to Sabbath and Sabbatical Grants from 1001 New Worshiping Communities, 35 leaders in the new church movement began taking sabbaticals earlier this summer. The response for these grants — all available grants were awarded — was tremendous. Now, some of the leaders are returning from their week- or month-long break to their pastoral work.

The Rev. Debbie Bronkema, pastor at Pleasantville Presbyterian Church in Pleasantville, New York, and the leader of the community, a worshiping community that has emerged alongside the congregation, is back from her week-long Sabbath in July feeling reinvigorated.

Curious about her experience, Presbyterian News Service asked Bronkema six questions. Her responses have been lightly edited for brevity.

PNS: What was your week of Sabbath like? 

Bronkema: It was wonderful.  I went on several hikes first, one with my daughter and one with my husband.  Then I took a trip to Princeton with my husband. We met at seminary and later got married on campus at the chapel, so it’s a significant place for us both on our faith and relationship journey. We spent three days in that area, spending lots of time talking and walking in Princeton. We also took day trips to walk by and across the Delaware River to New Hope, Pennsylvania — and then to the beach to see the ocean and watch the waves roll in. Then I went to Stony Point and spent two nights there. I walked the labyrinth and went on another hike on the Hudson River to the Stony Point Lighthouse.  Took pictures too, which have been wonderful to look back on.

What did your experience stir up in you?

I remembered what it was like to lay work down and let my spirit breathe. Not being productive took a minute — but eventually I was able to just enjoy the gifts of nature and the gift of spending time on relationships and the time to be present with God.

 Did it change you in any way? If so, how?

It gave me time for important conversations to make sense out of where I am in life and ministry today that were really helpful to have with my husband. It also gave me time to just walk, read, pray and be quiet — those were much needed opportunities. I do intend, and I have since made time during the week, to put work down and be. I’m scheduling Sabbath in my week and I’ve reinvigorated my morning time of prayer.

 How will this be beneficial to you and to those you serve in ministry?

I’m so grateful that this happened before I was back doing both in-person and online ministry for Pleasantville as well as leading the ministry of

I think I would have struggled a lot to find any kind of balance if I hadn’t taken some time to remember what balance looks and feels like.

I am so glad to have the energy and excitement and spiritual grounding I need to meet what I see in other people who are part of Pleasantville Presbyterian Church, and particularly those who are part of the new worshiping community we are gathering.


Why would you recommend a Sabbath experience to others in ministry?

My sense is that people are really burnt out — and have been just going for a while. Any opportunity to stop and breathe and reconnect with God that can reorient our sense of call and our excitement for it is so helpful. At this point I feel like every moment is a pivotal, so remembering to keep Sabbath is really important.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

Thank you! This was a Sabbath I truly, truly needed. Without the process and the financial gift, it wouldn’t have happened.

This fall, 1001 NWC is hosting “The Way of Spiritual Fortitude Series” as part of a continuing effort to help pastors ground themselves during this difficult season of ministry. The weekly, month-long series begins on October 20 at 7 p.m. Eastern Time with Brian McLarenClick here for additional speaker details and to register.

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