The gift of sabbath from the PC(USA)’s 1001 New Worshiping Communities

Over the past two years, 74 worshiping community leaders have received sabbath grants

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Libby Tedder Hugus spent part of her sabbatical in Iona, Scotland. (Contributed photo)

DECATUR, Georgia — Over the last two years, 74 leaders from the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement have received $200,000 in sabbath and sabbatical grants that enabled them to fully engage in intentional sabbath practice over the course of 2 to 6 weeks, depending on the length of their tenure in their current ministry context.

The 1001 Sabbath and Sabbatical program began during the pandemic as a way of serving new worshiping community leaders who are not eligible for other sabbatical programs. “We have been humbled and inspired by the experiences of these leaders who have surrendered to this discipline and taken advantage of these grants to help with the costs,” said the Rev. Nikki Collins, director for the Office of 1001 New Worshiping Communities. “As we invest in new forms of church and community on behalf of the PC(USA), we are convinced that practices of sabbath are crucial to the vibrant and vital future of the denomination and are committed to helping new communities and new leaders build sabbath keeping into their identities and rhythms.”


Jere Lester is a leader of Ebenezer Church in Linda Vista, California. (Contributed photo)

Jere Lester, a leader of Ebenezer Church in Linda Vista, California, completed his sabbatical in July 2022. “Because of the practical and intense nature of our work (working with the poor in an underserved community), I know it’s critical to have a rhythm of rest,” Lester said.

Lester benefited from regular “sabbath calls” with the Rev. Jeff Eddings, Spiritual Formation and Coaching Associate for the Office of 1001 New Worshiping Communities. Lester acknowledged a habit he shares with many entrepreneurial leaders: “I’m wired to want to work, or at least tinker, even during my time off. [Eddings] helped protect me from myself, and to structure the time so that it was truly a time off.”

The view of Lake Malawi from Jere Lester’s hotel room. (Contributed photo)

For some of his sabbatical, Lester visited Malawi, where his church has expanded its local anti-poverty work to have an international lens through partners in Africa. He called the view of Lake Malawi “one of the most beautiful and serene spots I’ve ever been.”

The Rev. Libby Tedder Hugus, pastor of The Table in Casper, Wyoming, called her 12-week sabbatical a time “to pause, unplug, unwind and unlearn in God’s presence.”

After pastoring a  worshiping community in Casper for seven years, Tedder Hugus said the sabbatical was “a time for me to get out of my own way long enough and come home to myself deeply enough to be still and know that God is love.” To do so, she created a sabbatical rule of life, “implementing a loose daily flow for touchstones in my day of prayer, body movement, nourishment and reflection,” which she followed at home and on a brief pilgrimage to Iona Abbey in Scotland to study with John Philip Newell.

The Rev. Libby Tedder Hugus

She also formed a clearness committee inspired by the Quaker tradition. She met with five trusted leaders to help her to “unpack what I was hearing from God and others during sabbatical.”

Se Kim of Galilee Korean Presbyterian Church in the Atlantic Korean American Presbytery focused on reconnecting with family in Korea, where he visited the Shittim Presbyterian Abbey on Jeju Island and devoted time for rest, prayer and reflection on himself in God. Kim said that “focusing on my own soul and prayers drew me closer to God and strengthened my foundations in God.”

Clare Lozano of Farmstead Eight in Heartland Presbytery learned valuable lessons of being present to the moment through daily hikes and a writing routine. She used her sabbatical to make progress on her spiritual memoir. A valuable lesson she learned was “that I do not need the perfect conditions to write or huge blocks of time.” Finding just 30 minutes a day has helped her to integrate her writing life into her pastoral vocation.

Over the course of their sabbatical, Armandee and Chris Drew confessed their cultural addiction to busy-ness and a personal one to helping. They sought out expansive practices and places to help them breathe and write poetry. In Bali, surrounded by “breathtaking beauty of fire-infused clouds above lush volcanoes and the subtle aromas of local fires cooking satay,” Chris imagined the downtime built into the rhythm of Jesus’ life that is overlooked by gospel writers.

Chris and Armandee Drew are pictured during their sabbatical in Bali. (Contributed photo)

“Jesus’s life was full of rest, but it’s often the actions that capture our attention,” Chris said. “Yet, consider the long hours talking while walking between towns, chatting by firelight, or laughing while mending nets on boats.”

Since returning from sabbatical, Chris’s partner in life and ministry, Armandee, has retained the new practices and perspective she needs to write poetry by “getting into beautiful settings, serenity, and contemplative rhythms.” She notices a difference in how she and Chris approach their ministry with Soul Soup Community in Atlanta. “Work has its place, but it doesn’t rule us,” she said. “We notice when we are slipping back into old patterns and remind each other that we have permission to rest.”

1001 Sabbath and Sabbatical Grants are administered by the Office of Financial Aid for Service and their partner platform, Kaleidoscope. Applications for next year’s grants will be available on the Presbyterian Mission Agency website in the spring.

“We celebrate the opportunity to help leaders grow in their sabbath practices,” said Eddings. “They lead through innovation every day. It is vital they find time and space to rest and reflect.”

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