by Rev. Larry Anderson
I had been provoked by reading about Sabbath from authors like Mark Buchanan, Dan Allender, and others. There has been considerable information and theological discussion on this subject. From even my very first ministry position I had a staff manual containing a benefit of a Sabbatical leave after 7 years of service. However, I served both my first and second churches for 6 years and thus never reached the magical number.
Then, approaching my 7th year in my third church I broached the subject with both the pastors and elders. I was encouraged to research it and come up with a proposal. I contacted our District Office and heard both positive and negative experiences in pursuing a Sabbatical leave. It was explained that various churches and pastors had experienced many diverse models – varying in financial support, length of time and content (educational, missions-related and rest).
It was about that same time I received a promotional package also from our District Office concerning the CREST Program that included a Sabbatical arrangement. I was immediately intrigued by the educational component of CREST and a Sabbath time frame that was modulated over two years. I particularly liked the timing and modulation of the program as it wouldn’t be just one large educational force-feeding nor simply a long rest. Instead there was a devised rhythm of learning and resting. The learning component was fully delineated but the rest was completely “fill in the blanks” – thus enabling me to pursue a deeper experiential exploration of spirituality, my own persona and Sabbath.
Being the longest serving pastor in my church the three other pastors on staff welcomed my participation in the CREST/Sabbatical program. They were encouraged to think that they also could go on some form of Sabbatical once they had served 6 to 7 years. The Elder Board knew they would be setting a form of precedent as they enabled me to follow this CREST/Sabbatical initiative as our other three pastors would follow in succession. The Board boldly agreed to fully finance my travel, food, lodging and educational costs. The processing of the various needs to do the CREST/Sabbatical seemed quite palatable given the extended time frame of two years and the brevity of the ten days away at a time. The cost, both financial and time-wise, was considered to be manageable, worthwhile and constructive for the church. No extra claims or demands were placed on me in way of service or ministry for benefits incurred. The Board looked upon it as a means to better their pastor and further the ministry of the church, period.
My experience with the CREST Sabbatical
I have had three Encounters in the CREST program with conjoined Sabbatical time enabling me to speak to the effectiveness of this model. I have come back from my times away feeling rested, invigorated, and ready to re-engage. My tank was filled. It was later in the CREST Program that I learned of the importance of rhythms that so cinched the model for me. The CREST component has given me camaraderie, interaction, new leadership tools and a track for my own leadership development. The Sabbatical component has given me time alone with God to digest the learning and interaction, assess the past and plan for the future.
One of my big take-aways was on the first experience of my Sabbatical. I had a fresh self-awareness that happened serendipitously biking across Vancouver Island to my first CREST Encounter. While I felt physically spent, I hadn’t felt as spiritually awakened to the goodness and beauty of God for a long time. It was only later in the CREST Encounter and interacting on my identity that I realized how much I needed that kind of engagement with God. Since that time, I have bought a better bike, biked and ran more frequently and got more serious about experiencing God in nature. I have really engaged in a system of rhythm for keeping fresh in ministry. Now I know how to get to a place where God can fill me up again. This has been huge for me. It took both the CREST and Sabbatical components to give me my God-sent epiphany.
Allender in his book “Sabbath” has said that Sabbath was meant for us to delight in God. I have so experienced that as I have learned in our CREST Program and rejoiced in varied adventures on each Encounter. I can’t more highly recommend to you this manner of doing a Sabbatical.
Being in the Vancouver Lower mainland I have sought to find various places for doing my Sabbatical component to – keep costs down and have varied spiritual and explorative experiences. I found that many Christian Retreat Centers are very open to having a solo pastor come for a retreat at a cheap rate. I have use public transportation, my bike and the good will of my fellow CRESTERs who have been willing to include me in their transit plans. We are a one-vehicle family and my wife requires the van while I am away.
For the first Encounter (in May), I opted for a bike trip to my destination of Honeymoon Bay Retreat Center (middle of Vancouver Island). I took the ferry across to Nanaimo and biked down to Thetis Island where I had pre-arranged a stay at the Capernwray Bible School. It took me close to four hours to bike to Chemainus to catch the Ferry over to Thetis Island. I picked up my key at the office and had a small cottage to myself for 3 days. The days were filled with walking, biking and running various trails and roads as well as reading, praying, and studying. My meals were had with a men’s conference that happened to be the same weekend. The last evening, I joined the men for their worship time. I was told at breakfast that next morning that the Cowichan Highway I planned to bike, was as flat as the pancake I was eating, “Worth the ride…” “EASY!….” Right. On my bike, I encountered two very large hills and a constant increase in elevation that nearly killed me. It took me around 5 hours to bike it and I was over an hour late for the kickoff of the CREST program.
Encounter 2 – Deep Values
My second Encounter I again brought my bike but this time one of my fellow CRESTers and his wife brought their bikes. We loaded my bike on his rack and we drove to Honeymoon Bay. We spent the pre-Encounter days at Honeymoon Bay biking the TransCanada Trail together. We also had time to swim in Lake Cowichan. Unfortunately, I was again late for CREST as I tried to sneak in a round of golf to take in the full DELIGHT in God during my Sabbatical time. In this case my Sabbatical involving a gorgeous morning of 9 holes conflicted with the CREST Encounter – again. I was becoming known as “the tardy one.”
After CREST I caught a Ferry over to Bowen Island and stayed at Rivendell for 5 days. I spent several hours each day weeding and mulching their grounds (my own initiative). I explored the island trails by bike and hiking. I joined a nightly prayer time and I made friends with others who were doing a spiritual retreat as well. We did the labyrinth together on Sunday morning. The labyrinth is a maze of flat rocks in a large circle that one prays and walks around. After that, my new friends invited me to join them for lunch – it involved blended raw vegetables and soup with WASA bread. I was extolled on the merits of WASA bread and continue to have it as part of my diet to this day.
The input I had received from CREST remained upper most in my thoughts as I ruminated over my values and purpose. Truly, the juncture of having my Sabbatical time immediately following CREST gave me much needed time to review and seek answers from God when everything was fresh and uncluttered.
Encounter 3 – Core Strengths
My third Encounter I booked myself into Knoll House near Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island. It has a beautiful setting overlooking the Kokislah River. It is also close to part of the TransCanada Trail and the largest wooden trestle in North America, just newly restored this summer at a cost of 4 million. It was a thrill to stand on the trestle and marvel at man’s engineering feat. I must mention that this was the first Encounter to which I wasn’t late … because of so enjoying my Sabbatical time. I received a round of applause from my cohorts and the smiles of my instructors when I arrived on time. I returned to Knoll House for the final few days of my Sabbatical and reflected on My Core Strengths, read my first book and turned in the reading report on it. With the November rain the Kokislah river, directly beside Knoll House rose dramatically becoming a torrent – I frequently went to the window to marvel at its change. Here was a strength of nature displayed in graceful power.
Encounter 4 – Compelling Dreams
For my next Encounter I have to be in Toronto for an executive meeting, so I planned to dovetail the beginning of my Sabbatical time into my time in Toronto, then Honeymoon Bay for CREST and concluding the later part of my Sabbatical in Victoria. Dreams are more about visioning and they are more caught in some serendipitous moment than planned out. Being in the right place, at the right time, and being in an open prayerful frame of mind – all lend to hearing, or seeing God’s design (1 Sam. 3:1-10). I really do feel that I am hearing God better since being on this program.
Each 10 days away for my CREST Sabbatical has been a unique experience, to connect with God and creation and to do something unique. I have found my adventures on my Sabbatical hugely stimulating and enriching. The CREST course has given me a way to reflect deeply on life and leadership, showing me the changes I need to make to flourish in service to God.
The locations I have travelled to have been a big part of my Sabbatical experiences. Each venue has offered some unique connections with God and time to reflect. I have learned to celebrate both the journey and the destination and to be very open to what God sends my way.
Julian of Norwich once wrote, “The greatest honour we can give to God is to live gladly.” The regularly scheduled CREST and Sabbatical time is something I lean into and excitedly engage… it fills my ministry tank and enables me to know that I will be firing on all cylinders in the latter half of life, Lord willing. I heartily recommend it!
Rev. Larry Anderson