A few years ago we (the Youth Ministries Committee of the Ann Arbor Christian Reformed Church) began to take a look at our youth group meeting and retreat schedule for the middle and high school youth programs at our church. We were noticing a drop in attendance and after talking to families, we confirmed what we knew… our teens were really busy. Of course we were a tad indignant that our programs were taking a hit. Where were these families’ priorities? But then, after taking an honest look at our own programming, we realized that we were contributing to the busy-ness of life for these teens and their families. Our middle school youth had two programs that met on alternating Wednesdays, thereby filling up every Wednesday night during the school year. The same thing held true for our high school students on Sunday evenings. In addition, multiple programs were doing multiple retreats, some with significant overlap of purpose or theme. Families had to make choices as to which events to attend, causing overall numbers at a single event to decrease.
We realized that we were not following through on our responsibilities. We were tasked as a committee to minister to BOTH the families AND the youth of our congregation. Our youth offerings were taking away from family time. It was time to address the over-scheduling our families were feeling. As a first step, we consolidated the multiple offerings we had for middle school and high school students. Now these age groups meet every other week, instead of weekly. We also looked at our summer and winter retreats. We looked at time commitments required of the teens, families and chaperones for each of these retreats. We looked at the costs of the retreats. We realized that we were asking a lot of families if we expected their children to attend all the options.
So, out of this, our “Sabbath Summer” was imagined. Why “Sabbath”? Sabbath is about being present – not concentrating on tomorrow or being regretful for yesterday. One goal we have for our over-committed students is that they learn to rest in the grace of the present. Therefore, we hope to provide a summer where we don’t ask families to budget hundreds of dollars to go towards sending their sons and daughters away from home for a week. This coming summer will be our first Sabbath Summer, which will occur every 4th year going forward. We will be asking the families and students to engage the meaning of Sabbath as rest, balance, health and wholeness. During this summer we will challenge them to also keep a traditional Sabbath day. A few times throughout the summer we will meet to discuss what it means to have a holy day of rest – how to create the time and space to be quiet, not connected to our technology, in the hopes of experiencing spiritual growth, awakening, healing.