Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Early Sunday Morning

Malcolm Lester 
When did Sunday become like every other day?

As a parent, I am all too aware of the endless activity on Sundays. Lacrosse tournaments, swim meets, concerts, football games….the list goes on. These events make for harried weekends, days that, paradoxically, are often busier than the work week. 

For me and many other people I know, these familial Sunday commitments run smack into….no, not the NFL, but church services!

Some churches now offer worship services on either Saturday or Sunday evening. Not all parishes may have the resources and staffing to consider these. Moreover, having churches search for alternative worship times seems backwards: it puts the onus on them, and forces these institutions to change to accommodate our increasingly busy schedules, rather than the other way around.

This may be revisionist history, but when I was a boy, Sundays, and especially Sunday mornings, were untouchable. (To my children, yes, I did just say “When I was a boy.” Please forgive me. You will speak the same way in about 40 years). Then, as it is now, not all families went to church during that time, but if families wanted to attend church, or have family time, they could. 

What was the tipping point? When did everything switch? When did Sunday become like every other day? More importantly, does it need to be this way…and what is the solution?

One option, of course, is for parents to not sign their children up for activities that meet on Sundays. I know some parents like this, who keep Sundays sacred; more power to them. As one’s children get older (mine are 14, 11, and 8), Sunday activities become harder and harder to resist, especially when they want to play in the game, swim in the meet, or sing in the concert.

Another option is for event coordinators, league commissioners, and others in positions of influence to reconsider their scheduling patterns. Yes, these are businesses, and money talks (it would be na├»ve to think that money is not a primary driver here). Some may argue that Sunday morning activities are necessary because that is the only available time for ice, lanes, fields, and other high-in-demand space.

But wouldn’t it be nice if we could preserve the time before 1 p.m. on Sunday—or even noon—and say, as a society, “We are not going to schedule any outside activities during this time. This time is reserved for family time and for church if you choose. You can run yourself ragged before Sunday morning and after, but for this three or four hour block, there is going to be nothing.” 

I worked previously at a school that did not schedule any sporting events—practices or games—on Sundays, which sent a clear message. I appreciated that, and now in my current position, I try to follow suit when it comes to scheduling events for our school.

A widespread observance of the Sabbath may not be feasible in our current super-charged American society. I am not asking for a full day….just a few hours. Call it a mini-Sabbath, or call it Edward Hopper Time (one of the great artist’s most famous paintings is titled “Early Sunday Morning”). A small chunk of the week should look different and feel different from the rest of the week.

Are there others who would like to question what Sundays have turned into and who are interested in having a conversation about preserving some sacred time?

Or is it too late…and are we too busy to have that conversation?

Malcolm Lester is the Head of School at Grace Episcopal Day School, serving students in preschool through fifth grade in Kensington, Maryland.