Sabbath Sojourn

| July 22nd, 2023

Dear Beloved Community,

Caught in the full and boisterous stretch of weeks that included our church’s first time at the Pride Festival, Abigail Cook’s final Sunday on our staff, the annual Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly in Atlanta, and Passport camp for children and youth was my eighth anniversary as your pastor on July 1.  Seems appropriate that this anniversary be surrounded by such markers of beloved community in all its health and vitality and change!

With every passing year, my love for you and the life we share only grows. These eight years have called me ever deeper into my sense of self, of relationship, of hope, of God’s dream for this world and our corner of it. We’ve held and tended, grieved and rejoiced, imagined and restored, softened and opened to the Way God is setting before us. Serving as your pastor is among the greatest honors of my life, and I am forever grateful for this season we’re sharing!

As you read this, Josh, the kids, and I am on our annual sabbath sojourn: two weeks on the South Carolina coast for renewal and restoration. Time away from rhythms of work has always felt important to me, but I never knew how essential it was until my sabbatical last summer, which revealed levels of exhaustion and burnout I didn’t even know I was carrying until I stopped long enough to feel them. I remembered this in a recent ordination conversation I was part of with one of our beloved young ministers, who, when asked about how they take time for self care, answered with beautiful truth in their station of life. “When I love this work as much as I do,” I remember them saying,

“I find renewal even in the work itself. Time away from it doesn’t seem as pressing as if I were in a job that depleted me.”

I heard that, and understood the beautiful sentiment behind it. But in the aftermath of a life-nourishing sabbatical away from the burdens of a role I cherish that left me renewed at a soul level and even more grateful to return, I countered gently, saying, “I’d say that time away from work is necessary even when — especially when! — you love it as much as you do!” Perhaps you can relate.

So here I sit, in the early weeks of my ninth year as your pastor, my heart full of love for you and my body and mind at rest. The winds are blowing off the marsh and coursing over my skin. Cicadas harmonize with birdsong. A growing pile of novels has taken me to worlds I’ll never know. Unhurried mornings bear an alternative witness to the vast many I live. My roles as spouse, mother, human are being tended right at the center of things. Discovery lies just over the horizon. 

Wendell Berry’s prophetic words to his poem, “Wild Geese,” beckon me — wholeheartedly, courageously, with nothing short of gratitude — into what is yet to be:

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over fall fields, we name names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

Together in God’s work of Love,
Pastor Emily