By Ann Smith
“It takes courage to study leisure,” Peggy Hothem has always told her students. “People think you’re majoring in being lazy.” Not so. In the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies that she pioneered at Gordon in the late 1980s, students have explored the psychological, sociological and philosophical dimensions of leisure and a theological perspective on the role of labor, and of rest. Like education majors in the same academic division, they also gain the practical skill set needed for careers in their field.
When Dr. Hothem retired in May, roughly 40 leisure studies majors—a good fourth of the majors who have studied with her over the years—returned to campus for a College retirement reception to celebrate her career. They gathered with her afterward for a standing-room-only party, and at her invitation many of them spoke about the role leisure plays in their personal or professional lives, or both— and about their understanding, developed here at Gordon, that God delights in our living life to its fullest.
Relational to her core, Dr. Hothem is known for her work to help her students discern an appropriate vocation. Her colleague Rich Obenschain speaks of her “desire to see students grow in their whole person.” She also helped them integrate into everyday life the balance that she models: hard work and deliberate leisure, social engagement and time for reflection, and faithfulness to the Sabbath. She went the extra mile to help as students looked for work, too: she has a professional network and she’s not afraid to use it.
Under her leadership, Recreation and Leisure Studies was one of the first Gordon departments to invite professionals to speak to classes about their fields, and how students could become incorporated into those fields. She estimates that two thirds of her graduates work in the field of recreation and leisure—programming recreational activities in YMCAs, community recreation programs, and agencies serving the elderly—or directing camping, youth work, corporate recreation, outdoor education, or therapeutic recreation for those with physical or cognitive special needs. Some are in sport leadership, and that work too is enriched by their understanding of leisure.
“They know why they’re doing what they’re doing,” Dr. Hothem says. “Anyone can throw a ball on a field; anyone can establish a program. But you need to know why. How is it going to benefit the individuals? How is it going to benefit the community?”
She began her career teaching physical education, at three other colleges and then at Gordon. Taking a course at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the late ’70s, she encountered an article about leisure—not phys ed, leisure—that led her to read and study more on the theology of leisure. It radically shifted her vocational vision. Her orientation shifted from teaching and coaching athletes, to recreation for everyone. Her understanding of leisure broadened: it means community connections, it means active recreation, it means exploration, it means appreciation of local and global resources. And amid all that, it means contemplation, and rest.
“Within our Christian culture, we put so much emphasis on what we’re doing that we sometimes neglect our ‘being,’” Dr. Hothem says. “We need to reflect, and listen to God.”
Ann Smith is the copy editor in the Office of College Communications.