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A restorative Sabbath


New Jersey pastor receives a simple gift that helps restore his soul

September 23, 2020

In this pandemic era, we have found ourselves walking on unknown paths, searching for something familiar and finding our souls to be weary. Tim Clarkson, a hospice chaplain and supply pastor at Union Hill Presbyterian Church in Denville, New Jersey, shares his story in this article that first appeared in the Presbytery of Newton newsletter. It runs here with permission of the author.

The Rev. Tim Clarkson

A couple months ago, which now seems a couple lifetimes ago, a pastor friend described an intentional day away from the tasks of ministry as a “restorative day.” It sounded so lovely … and elusive. In splitting my time between part-time roles as a covenant supply pastor and hospice chaplain, time to quiet my mind to experience presence is often hard to find. Every other weekday, I am invested full-time in one part-time role’s ministry or the other. Saturdays were usually a mix of unsuccessful attempts to tend to activities on the home front that deserve more time and attention than I afford them, and that effort interrupted by bringing my mom over for lunch. As for Sundays, my fellow pastors, you well know the creative ways we fit 25-hour square pegs into 24-hour round holes.

Then, by mid-March, life as we knew it changed with the onslaught of COVID-19, and its implications to how we “do” church. All of us, in countless ways, were thrust into discovering new ways of making worship accessible and tending the needs of our congregations.

Then, on Maundy Thursday, after a week in the hospital, my mom passed from COVID-19. That afternoon, my wife, Amy, suggested I invite another pastor to take my place leading the worship by Zoom meeting that night. I insisted on presiding myself — and am glad I did. It was a meaningful experience for all of us.

I took Good Friday off from hospice, but received one call, from a new widow seeking spiritual support to walk her through saying goodbye to her husband at the funeral home, alone, before his cremation.

On Saturday, we recorded the service for Easter, and on Monday, I made my trip to the funeral home for a private visitation for my mom.

I have not been one to use the term “Low Sunday” to describe the Sunday after Easter. I had not circled April 19 on my calendar or planned to request my church have someone else preach instead of me that day.

Then everything happened that I wrote above. Still, I was not thinking of taking off April 19. Not in this time of pandemic. Not when pulling together and producing worship has become so complicated. Thankfully, Amy suggested my taking the day. Thankfully, this time I listened.

A restorative day is so lovely.

When I heard the term in early March, I decided I could not find the time for such a thing. I was right. None of us can “find” the time, especially now! It is a matter of creating the time, of intentionally acting in real ways that give life to any talk of “self-care.”

On Sunday, April 19, I sat with my family in our living room, attending and participating in the virtual worship of Union Hill Presbyterian Church of Denville, listening to the sermon of my friend from seminary, Mark Terranova, as he provided pulpit supply. We did not “skip” worship; I merely took that Sunday “off,” even in the midst of pandemic and social distancing, and all the new challenges and demands the current crisis presents in our lives and ministry.

A couple of days later, our presbytery leader, the Rev. Jeanne Radak, checked on me, knowing of my mom’s passing. She asked me to describe the effects of having taken Sunday off. Without consciously recalling in the moment my pastor friend’s term from early March, I was moved to tell her, “Taking that one Sunday off was … restorative.”

She suggested I share that discovery in the hope that it may be of benefit to you, your church and your ministry. In this time of uncertainty, pressure and stress, all of us need a restorative experience.

Rev. Tim Clarkson, supply pastor at Union Hill Presbyterian Church, Denville, New Jersey

Today’s Focus:  Restorative Sabbath

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
René Myers, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Mary Nebelsick, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray:

Gracious God, we ask that you would give us patience and creativity as we move expectantly into a new way forward. Amen.

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