Dear Pastor ___________,
Thank you for contacting the Ellen G. White Estate. I know of nothing in Mrs. White's writings that addresses a situation like you have described. I don't think that such things were common then or perhaps even existed. I'll make a few observations of my own, with which anyone may feel free to disagree.
Jesus affirmed that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day. He healed people on the Sabbath when the leaders of His day considered this breaking the Sabbath. Jesus pointed out that any of them would help get his own valuable ox out of a ditch on the Sabbath if necessary, and shouldn't He be able to help a suffering human being on that day?
Some have seen this as calling for us to become involved in various kinds of social projects on the Sabbath. Young people's groups have been taken to the inner city to do painting and cleanup on Sabbath afternoon, for instance. You are asking now about a walk-a-thon on Sabbath. These are worthwhile projects in their own right, but shall we use the Sabbath in this way? That is the question.
Early in my own ministry, I came home from church one Sabbath to find my widowed neighbor next door mowing her lawn. Just to be friendly, I greeted her, and right away she began telling me how sick she was, running a fever, aching, etc. But her lawn was quite long, and she wanted to get it done. I told her, "Alice, go in the house and go to bed. I'll take care of this for you tomorrow." But she wouldn't. It was only partly done, and it looked bad to abandon the job with part of it long and part cut. I thought about it for a couple of seconds and then told her, "Let me go and change my clothes, and I'll be out to finish this for you." With that we both went into our houses, and soon I was cutting her lawn.
A couple of days later she called me to thank me, and I said, "That's OK, Alice. I wouldn't have cut mine on that day, but I was glad to help you then." "Oh, yes," she said, "that was your Sabbath, wasn't it?" "I admitted it was and said no more about it.
That's the only time I have ever cut a lawn on Sabbath, but I'm glad I did that one at that time. I didn't go looking for lawns to cut, but I think I had come upon the human equivalent of the ox in the ditch. It was time to step in and help.
By the way, a year or two later, Alice was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She worked with some of the local volunteer firemen who had responded to a call at our church. We were talking on the phone one day soon after that fire call, and she reported to me that she had told them she lived next door to the Adventist parsonage. Then she told me what else she had told them: "I was born a Catholic, and I'll probably die a Catholic, but if I ever were to be anything else, I would be a Seventh-day Adventist, because their pastors have been so kind to me over the years." I was glad I had mowed her lawn when she needed it.
Though the Bible tells us that the Sabbath was made for man, it also tells us that the Sabbath is holy time. It is intended to be a time of fellowship with God and family, of rest from our weekly labors, and of ministering to others. Sometimes I think we too easily crowd activities into the Sabbath that stretch the boundaries of these things, because we are unwilling to use some of OUR time for them! If I can choose the outreach or service activities that I will do on the Sabbath (that is, I haven't just come upon an "ox in the ditch,") I will select those that have a spiritual tone or emphasis to them rather than purely a secular or humanitarian aspect. For me, then, the walk-a-thon and the ghetto painting are not it. Those things are for the rest of the week. If I can't walk in the walk-a-thon because it is held on Saturday and not Sunday, that's OK. I can still contribute to the cause it is supporting. But on the Sabbath let me focus on things that remind me that this is holy time
I hope some of this may be useful to you in some way. May the Lord guide you as you lead His flock.
Ellen G. White Estate
12501 Old Columbia Pike
Silver Spring, MD 20904-6600 U.S.A.
Phone: 301 680-6550
FAX: 301 680-6559