The Unplugged Pastor

by Darian Duckworth

Facebook, a site that thrives on connecting with one another, taught me the value of disconnecting. In late February, a message from the United Methodist Church appeared on my news feed about unplugging from technology for a 24-hour period. The Sabbath Manifesto, a project that seeks to reclaim the seventh day of creation in our increasingly busy lives, organized the event—and this pastor was ready to sign up. Set to begin at sundown on March 1, I started communicating with people why I would be unreachable for a brief period of time.

I called my parents to give them the heads-up. I posted a message on my social media accounts. I sent an email to the congregation. Everything was turned to the “off” position except for my landline at home, in case of emergency. Before the official day of unplugging began, I could already see that I was over-plugged. Why did I feel a need to let people know I would not respond to their emails right away? Had I been communicating so much through text and social media that I “needed” to explain why I would not be? Before the sun had even set, I could tell that my thoughts and I would have a lot of time together.

Not only did I have time with my thoughts, but also with other parts of my life that had been ignored.

I read Scripture from my childhood Bible—instead of an e-reader.

I played the piano—instead of listening to the radio.

I practiced yoga for a full hour—instead of a rushed 30 minutes.

I took a long walk with my dog and played with him in the backyard—instead of a run around the block.

I wrote a letter to my boyfriend—instead of sending and receiving a slew of text messages.

I looked at my watch to see what time it was—instead of looking at my cell phone.

I walked outside for the weather forecast—instead of looking it up on the television or phone.

The silence of Sabbath did come with its challenges. As I drove to the grocery store on the morning of March 2, I thought I heard my cell phone ringing. I reached into my purse for it. When I couldn’t find it, I panicked. Then I remembered that it sat on the desk at home—unplugged. I’d grown so accustomed to the ring that I could hear it even when I couldn’t possibly! When I wanted to listen to Mumford & Sons’ album Babel, with an unplugged computer and iPod I had to resort to singing the songs instead. That was likely a challenge to my neighbors’ ears.

With all the humor, frustrations, and benefits of the 24 hours, unplugging enabled me to find a different pace. I realized how dependent I had become on impersonal forms of communication. Without the interruptions of technology, I was able to focus more easily on what was right in front of me. At the same time, the lack of technology made me more grateful for its benefits when I did flip the switches back to “on.”

Even though I find numerous personal benefits in Sabbath, as a pastor I wonder what kind of impact unplugging could have on our churches. What would a Day of Unplugging look like in the local church? For churches that use a lot of technology in worship services, perhaps a return to hard-covered hymnals and simple music occasionally on Sunday mornings would shed new light. For more traditional churches that are smaller in membership, the congregations could make covenants to unplug for 24 hours and gather in small groups later for reflection. Youth groups could go on “media fasts,” giving up their social media, instant messaging, and cell phones for a set amount of time. They would then spend that time engaged in hands-on service projects.

There is great creativity in this model, and the possibilities are endless. By intentionally observing the Old Testament model of Sabbath, we are finding a new rhythm. We are making choices to change. We are pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. By removing certain distractions, I was able to pay better attention to the world around me. If churches were to do the same, who knows what we would discover about God, ourselves, and each other?

And now, please excuse me while I turn off the computer once again. There are letters to write and songs to sing. Will you join me?

This article won the 2013 Award of Merit for Personal Experience, Short Format from the Associated Church Press.

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