Confessions of a Book Collector


This is the second in a special series on Sabbath by our friends at Blessed Earth.  Today’s post was written by Rev. Mairi Renwick (see her bio and contact information below the article).  Read the first installment here.


The most beautiful building on my seminary’s campus is the library. From the outside it looks almost like a castle with a tower. When you walk into the large foyer, you are greeted with high Inside Mortonceilings and a large circulation desk. Wooden tables with small reading lamps and comfortable reading chairs decorate the floors. Large portraits of former professors cover the walls. More than one person has stated it reminds them of Hogwarts.

After getting over the castle-like building, you realize that this is a library. A library with loads of books, commentaries, video recordings, DVDs, newspapers, and free access to online article databases.

After seminary, there is the harsh realization that commentaries are expensive. Online databases are expensive. Finding easily accessible materials from local libraries is difficult, and church libraries are rarely stocked with the newest books. While the internet provides useful resources, it is hard to know what is trustworthy.

This is a shame because clergy love books.

I recently talked with a group of colleagues who were also fellow PKs (pastors’ kids). We discussed what we wanted to inherit from our pastor parent. Was it money? A house? Of course not! We want their books, journals, and any other wonderful ministry items.

Aware of this love/obsession, Blessed Earth wants to help provide you with useful, reliable Sabbath resources.  Here are a few to get you started:

1. Our new website called Sabbath Living! Check out these tools you’ll find there:

2. 24/6: A Prescription to a Healthier, Happier Life  If you don’t already have a copy of Matthew Sleeth’s book, contact me, and I’ll make sure you get one. 24/6 is a great tool for congregation reads and small group study.

3. 24/6 DVD Email me for your own copy; the DVD makes it easy to facilitate a retreat, workshop, or Sunday school series.

Our biggest resource, however, is YOU!  If you or your church has a Sabbath experience that you are willing to share, we’d love to hear your story. How about a sermon series that you’ve outlined? Or simply a favorite Sabbath quote? We would to share tools that you’ve generated and additional helpful resources on the Sabbath Living website! Examples of content our UMC friends have already generously shared:

  • Rev. Jonathan Brake of Centenary UMC in Winston-Salem developed a Lenten devotional
  • Rev. Ryan Bennett of Bethlehem UMC in Franklin, TN, outlined a “Margins” sermon series
  • Bishop Hope Morgan Ward passed along some great Sabbath quotes to add to our list

I have a theory that pastors are professional collectors of books and resources. I invite you to continue your collection—AND add to our collection—on

Mairi headshot 2Rev. Mairi Renwick, a graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary, is Blessed Earth’s Sabbath Living Program Manager. Before coming to Blessed Earth, she was a hospital chaplain. While Mairi loves books and articles, she really admires her father’s card catalog of every sermon illustration, in alphabetical order according to topic, which he has used in 30+ years of ministry. Please feel free to contact Mairi at


Photo credit: The William Smith Morton Library at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA, and is used with permission.

Preventing Ministry Burnout in a 24/7 World


This is the first in a special series on Sabbath by our friends at Blessed Earth.  Today’s post was written by Nancy Sleeth (see her bio below the article).


“I feel like I’m on call, 24/7.”

“Between my day job and a two-point charge, I haven’t had a real vacation in years.”

“My parsonage is next to the church, so I never have down time!”

Over the last year, my husband Matthew and I have spoken with more than one thousand UMC clergy in North Carolina. You may have crossed paths with us at one of our 24/6 workshops and retreats. What we’ve heard over and over is that clergy are feeling frazzled. Why? Too many demands and not enough time.

A friend of mine calls this problem “time debt.” And it’s not unique to the church. It’s everywhere. Each “yes” requires a future commitment of our time. Like a home mortgage, some of those payments stretch out for years into the future.

Fortunately, the Church holds an answer. The solution first shows up in Genesis. In Exodus, it becomes one of the top ten—the longest of the commandments and the most peaceful sky and water imageoft-repeated directive in the bible. We die if we don’t honor it, and we fly high if we do. (Isaiah 58:13-14) It’s called Sabbath rest.

One day out of seven, we’re invited to lay down our burdens—to be still, and know God. There are only two “rules”: pray and play. For me, that means no emails, no housework, and no shopping. Instead, I do the things that refresh me. I read. I walk. I spend time with family, friends, and God. I take holy naps.

Here’s the encouraging news: more and more of you are accepting God’s invitation to the Sabbath banquet. According to Clergy Health Initiative data, in 2012 only nine percent of UMC clergy in North Carolina were taking a regular Sabbath. Among the pilot populations we are working with, about thirty-three percent are now remembering the fourth commandment. And among our beta leadership groups, fifty-five percent are now keeping a regular Sabbath.

More good news: The Duke Endowment has awarded a generous three-year grant to the ministry that Matthew and I founded, Blessed Earth. Our goal is to improve the emotional and spiritual health of clergy by engaging in regular rhythms of work and rest. Like any habit, it takes repeated exposure to make sustained changes in our behavior.

The Sabbath Living Initiative is designed to support you in your Sabbath practices. First, we need to model the Sabbath ourselves. (Our best sermon is our own behavior)! Second, we need to extend the gift of Sabbath to others. You’ll find plenty of resources for both you and your congregations on the new Sabbath Living website.

In our next post, Rev. Mairi Renwick, Blessed Earth’s new Sabbath Living Program Manager, will share more about the sermon series outlines, small group studies, hymns, scripture, books, articles, and many other resources that are available to you and your congregations.

Until then, I wish you Shabbat Shalom—and a God-ordained Sabbath nap!

Nancy pic bwNancy Sleeth is the Managing Director of Blessed Earth and author of Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life. She and her husband, Matthew Sleeth, MD, started the Sabbath Living Initiative, which supports NC UMC clergy and their congregations in their Sabbath practices.

Do You Need A New Rhythm? ~ Part IV


This is the fourth in a special series on Sabbath by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn. Please read the first installment here, the second installment here, and the third here. We offer these reflections in the hope that you will feel invited to deepen your own Sabbath practice. Thank you to Dianne for sharing these thoughtful reflections with us in this space!

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I believe that there are two important things to consider when you are planning for Sabbath time.  These two things are what to include in your Sabbath time and what to leave out of it.  So, let’s start with what you might want to leave out of your Sabbath time.  We should think about doing more of what gives us life and doing less of what drains us.  This calls for some reflection on our part.  We might ask ourselves: what do we find to be life- giving and what do we find to be life-draining? What helps us to give and receive God’s love and what hinders us from doing that?  These questions may sound familiar to you as they are the Ignatian Questions of Examen.  They provide a wonderful spiritual check-in for how our rhythm is working for us.

worn white cardboard box isolated on white background..When I think about what is life-draining for me, it’s rushing, deadlines, multi-tasking, being always available, unrealistic expectations, and not feeling the freedom to do the things at my own pace.  Wayne Muller speaks in his book, Sabbath, about having a Sabbath box- where you place the things that are not invited into your Sabbath time.  So, I might put my watch, cellphone, or my calendar in the box.  The idea is that you don’t allow the things that drain you to enter into your Sabbath space, you protect yourself from them for a set- aside time.  This is about freeing yourself up to take a vacation from those things.     

Once the life-draining things of life are set aside, then, you are free to open yourself to experiencing the life-giving things that replenish you.  For me those life-giving things are easing into the day, not always being available through technology, and allowing myself to do things at a more leisurely pace, as I actually lose track of time.  As you create your Sabbath space; you should be encouraged to feel free to do whatever you need to do for yourself.

318203573_0d6273c2eb_bI have been observing Sabbath for quite some time now.  I can say that it has been the most helpful spiritual practice I have found.  It has really opened up space for me to nurture my spiritual longings, without feeling guilty about the time that I am spending doing so.  This practice has brought refreshment to my soul and helped me to embrace a new rhythm.

As you enter into your Sabbath time, you might consider using these questions of Examen as well.  For most of us, it has been a long time since we took the time to consider what drains us or what brings us life.  Considering these questions will help you design a Sabbath day that truly ministers to your soul.  I pray God’s blessings on you as you embrace the kind of Sabbath Rest that will bring you life.  I celebrate the gifts that await you within it! 

Dianne Lawhorn

DianneDianne is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.


Do You Need A New Rhythm? ~ Part II


This is the second in a special series on Sabbath by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn. Please read the first installment here. We offer these reflections in the hope that over the next few weeks you will feel invited to deepen your own Sabbath practice. Check back on the next two Mondays to read the rest of Dianne’s thoughts on this important topic.

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Now this idea of observing a “stop day” isn’t a new one.  It was thought of long before any of us were.  We find it in the biblical concept of Sabbath-keeping.  I love the way that Exodus 20:8 gives us this command: “Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep it Holy.”  Dr. Matthew Sleeth speaks of this.  He says “In the beginning of time, God created for 6 days and what did God do on the 7th day?  He rested.  God created the world and said it was good.  God created humans and he said they were very good.  God created the Sabbath and he said it was holy.” 

8537281481_7aeec88600_hThe Sabbath was something that God created, observed, and modeled for us, not because God needed it, but because God knew we needed it.  That’s why God provided it for us as a gift,  blessed it for us, and made it holy.  Sabbath was all about helping the Hebrew people to establish rhythms for life that would sustain them.  Their identity was shaped by embracing God’s rhythm of working for 6 days and resting on the 7th day, letting it be a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord.  The Hebrew people were no different than we are, they didn’t think they could take a day free from work and still get everything done.  Moses encouraged them to trust that God would take care of their needs.  With baby steps, they learned how to cease from their labors, how to enter Sabbath- rest.  Developing this pattern in their lives involved a radical re-ordering of their priorities.

Do we think we’ve evolved beyond needing this rhythm that God created for the people?  If we are honest, we’ll admit that we need this radical re-ordering of our priorities, now more than ever.  The business, the hurry, the overload of our lives is so much less than what God wants for us.  We’ve been missing out on the pace of a Sabbath day for a long time, on experiencing a rhythm that includes stopping, slowing, and resting.  Can you imagine what this might look like, feel like, and mean to our lives to have a day every week for Sabbath-rest?

So, maybe for pastors Sunday can’t be our Sabbath.  We can certainly claim this kind of a day on another day of the week, can’t we?  I believe Sabbath-rest can be a reality for us, if we recognize the need for it, and create space in our lives for it.  Maybe we, like the Hebrews, could simply take a baby step today by embracing even just an hour of true Sabbath time.

May God guide us as we seek to recover this precious gem that has been lost, so that we can experience a new rhythm of life that includes holy rest.  With a deep breath, a prayer intention, and willing trust in God to provide for our needs, let us begin to reclaim the gift of Sabbath-rest.

–Dianne Lawhorn

DianneDianne is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

Image from Flickr user Grand Canyon NPS, via Creative Commons.

Do You Need A New Rhythm? ~ Part I


This is the first in a special series on Sabbath by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn. We offer these reflections in the hope that over the next few weeks you will feel invited to deepen your own Sabbath practice. Check back on the next three Mondays to read Dianne’s thoughts on this important topic. 

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Boy and Girl Running in Tall Grass

I led a workshop recently at our Annual Conference on the concept of Sabbath.  During this workshop, I asked participants to reach back into their memories and recall how they spent Sunday afternoons as a child.  I could immediately see smiles and the look of wonder on people’s faces.  It was as if the sweet aroma of a day when things seemed so much simpler swept across the room.  Then, I asked the group to share with a neighbor about those memories.  I looked around the room and heard people speaking of wonderful meals, time with family, taking long naps, and catching lightning bugs!  I noticed less about what they said and more about the way that they said it.  Their pace had changed, they had slowed down, and there was a peacefulness about their sharing.  Were these folks really speaking of having a day where they slowed down long enough to enjoy a meal, to take a nap, or to catch a lightning bug?

It was a beautiful moment where the whole mood in the room shifted and we were ready to hear about Sabbath- rest.  Sunday afternoons used to be a time for us to do things that we enjoyed, to relax, to rest.  It was unhurried and leisurely and it didn’t feel at all like work.  Times have changed, haven’t they?  Now, our Sundays are really no different than any other day of the week.    They are too full, too busy, harried even.  Our Sundays are often a catch up day where we rush around trying to get everything done that wasn’t done during the week.  Sunday isn’t a day of leisure anymore.

There is something sacred about the way that we used to spend our Sabbath days.  This slower pace was good for us.  This is something we have lost and I believe that it needs to be re-claimed.  This is something we need, a pause in the pace of our busy lives.  We need a day where our schedule doesn’t get inundated with work, a day to take a break from that endless hamster’s wheel of activity.  We need a day of leisure, a lazy day, a day to slow down and enjoy the wonderful gifts that God has given us.

246covercroppedDr. Matthew Sleeth, author of the book 24-6, says that what we need most is a “stop day,” a day to stop working, a day of rest.  This stop is the thing that is missing from our lives.  Reclaiming this stop is a great way for us to think about Sabbath-Rest.   Doesn’t the idea of a stop day sound good to us?  Don’t we need a day that calls us back into a rhythm that includes stopping, slowing, and resting?  Don’t we need a day to cease from our labors?  Doesn’t this feel like a gift that we’ve lost that needs to be reclaimed?   …To be continued Monday, Nov. 4th.

–Rev. Dianne Lawhorn, MDiv

DianneDianne is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.