Our three months away from church brought some interesting insights about my own worship practices. Many of my colleagues use sabbatical time to visit other churches to both engage in worship and check out what others are doing. We didn’t do that. Mostly because our Sundays found us in various national parks or on the road from one place to another. We did, when the internet allowed (which wasn’t often), log into our or someone else’s Facebook livestream. So, without ready access to a congregation and corporate prayer and scripture reading and sermons, what’s a pastor to do?
As you can imagine, just being in the beauty of creation and with family lent itself to a variety of opportunities to be in awe and wonder. Quiet times for meditation, prayer and reflection were abundant. Contemplating the various ways God is present in the natural world around us was a common thing. We saw God’s creative spirit at work in the giant Redwoods and red rock formations. We experienced God’s resurrection activity in the new growth throughout old burn areas in Yellowstone and Sequoia National Parks. We relished in God’s connecting spirit as we connected with family and made new friends. And, we rested in God’s renewing spirit in many ways. I had the gift of being guided through this and much more with a wise spiritual director.
I thought often about the reality that churches are shrinking and corporate worship is no longer a priority in society. Being an active part of a faith community is no longer an expectation and has actually become an exception. People are finding other things to do with their time and energy and resources. “Work” seems to be demanding more from so many. We love our recreational activities and go at them with gusto. Church is no longer relevant for so many (or so the studies say).
About a month into my sabbatical, as we were enjoying a quiet Sunday morning somewhere without internet, it dawned on me how quickly we had moved away from the routine of “going to church.” We weren’t checking the time. We weren’t thinking about what to wear. Instead, we were enjoying the scenery and one another’s company and probably a good book. I started to “get” the sentiment of “I can worship God anywhere” that I hear so often from folks who have stopped attending corporate worship. Eventually, as we continued to enjoy creation and companionship and more good books, I discovered that God was becoming less and less a part of my thoughts and activities and reflections. I confess that, had it not been for the anticipation of checking in with my spiritual director, God may have faded into the background by the time we were through.
And then we came home. And then we went to church for worship. The people were gathering. The choir was rehearsing. Fans were being turned on and microphones were being set up. And then words of welcome and the music started to play. About the time we jumped into our first hymn, everything came back around full circle. This. This is worship. People. Activity. Singing. Praying. Reflecting. Being transformed.
Although I loved all the experiences (well, most of them) of my sabbatical, returning to a worshiping congregation was one of the highlights.
On a different, but related note…. I’ve discovered that there’s a bit of an elephant in the room (or a question that is lingering) that should be addressed. Is Lynne going to retire? The short answer is “yes…… someday.” But it’s not on my horizon just yet. I believe I have a few years of ministry left in me and a sermon or two still to create and offer. So, if you’ll have me a for a bit longer, I’ll be around.
May you have a blessed week and, please, do join your church family in worship.