Sabbatical 17: The Gift of Presence

It was the last few weeks of my sabbatical, the lazy days of summer, before I was to resume pastoral leadership at VEV. Joanna and our leadership team had done such a good job of shielding me from the day-to-day issues and concerns of the church, so I was free to enjoy relational connections and community. Vancouver had been in a full-on drought since April and the landscape was unseasonably brown and barren. During this time, Kathleen and I enjoyed taking care of people’s kids together and hanging out at parks with VEV folks. Having slowed down significantly, I was able to see so much more clearly the remarkable treasure of friends we had in our church family.

Our Vancouver born  grandson, Samuel,
enjoying the Whitecaps game with grandpa
We also continued to enjoy our extended Vineyard family, including David and Anita Ruis, who came to serve our church for two Sundays in worship and teaching, one of those while on their holidays! Remarkable! Then, Danielle and Markus and our grandkids arrived during the second week of August so we also enjoyed hanging out with them together with yet more church families for great picnics. Next, we enjoyed a remarkable reunion with our leadership team for a social, hosted by the ever-hospitable Pallisters. In addition, I took some time throughout the month to interview our wonderful pre-teens to get their perspective on what preteen’s ministry should look like at VEV. One other highlight was taking my Vancouver-born grandson, Samuel, to a Whitecaps game as a belated birthday present for him. That night, the Whitecaps had a goal feast, winning 4-0 and we saw two goals scored right in front of us! So much fun!  

Still another one of my August highlights was being asked by Karen and Stephen to take
Sarah (having just lost a  tooth)
 and Samantha. Does it get any
better than this?
care of their primary/preschool aged daughters, Sarah and Samantha for a day. Kathleen had to work and I was a bit insecure about taking them on my own for the whole day, but Karen and Stephen seemed confident that it would be fine, so I went for it. We had an amazing day together, just hanging out in their neighbourhood. I learned so much from them. However, 15 minutes after Karen had left for work, the girls had been rough housing a bit together, and Sarah came up to me and announced that her tooth had been knocked out! I could see she was bleeding.  I thought, “O great, 15 minutes into my babysitting venture and we have blood.” Well, it all turned out well as it was a baby tooth. Actually, it was an event that Sarah was quite proud of. So, instead of a disaster, I got in on a milestone! It was a full day. I got home, retired early and slept well, with a smile on my face, I’m sure.  

The Radical Nature of Slowing Down

Slowing down is harder than we realize. The greatest price of slowing down is that everyone else is in a hurry and so they think you are in their way. Well, actually you are, but maybe they need to slow down too. For example, when you are in traffic and you are going the speed limit, and everyone else wants to speed, you appear to be an annoyance, even if you stay out of the passing lane. Life is like that too. The sabbatical had slowed me down but now I felt the whole world was in a hurry. However, slowing down meant I could be more attentive and more present – to myself, to others, to God, but it was radically counter-cultural. 

It was at this time that I was reminded of something I discovered when I was working in the Department of Mining Engineering office at UBC from 1991-1996. During that time, I was able to live the Good News in such a way that, according to the testimony of the department head, professors, and staff at the time, it had brought much peace and healing to the department. One professor had wept in my little office area as I prayed and journeyed with him through his 20 year old son’s cancer diagnosis, and subsequent recovery. One lady saw remarkable improvement from a hand injury after I had prayed for her. When I would walk into the office in the morning, this colleague would announce to anyone in her hearing, “The healer is here.” I discovered that being a pastor is not what you do, it’s simply who you are. It is sharing the gift of presence. This reality was renewed during my last month of sabbatical, as I was simply chose to be among the congregation. I realized afresh that “pastor” was simply who I was, not a job description. I didn’t have to try to do anything. I was looking forward to leading and teaching again, but the essence of being a pastor was relational presence.  

Clarity for the Future and Re-Entry

I was beginning to receive more clarity on direction for my future, an important objective for the sabbatical. One thing that emerged for me was spiritual direction. For many years now, I have regularly received spiritual direction from Jeff Imbach who is part of an organization called Soulstreams. I cannot describe the number of times these sessions have been life giving and life-saving, including the care provided for me on the sabbatical. Both Kathleen and I discerned that I was being drawn towards more contemplative living. So, I enrolled in Living from the Heart, a foundational course with Soulstreams towards receiving training in spiritual direction. This one-year course has two one-week intensives – one which was last November and the next one will be in Mid-May. The course involves monthly small groups, reading, and reflection assignments. It continues to nurture me and keep me present now that I’ve returned to pastoral work, along with the spiritual direction from Jeff that I continue to receive. Indeed, I want to pastor through spiritual direction for my remaining years.

Hanging out with the grandkids in the 'hood
Related to this, I believe that I am to be present to young leaders. This kind of investment has always given me so much life over the years and it has resulted in so much good fruit. Perhaps related to this, Kathleen and I believe that we are to be closer to our children and grandchildren in the coming season. Having said that, we can’t make it happen, but it has become a prayer priority for us.

Finally, at the end of August, Kathleen and I made the transition to full re-entry by attending VEV Church Camp at Fort Langley. After camping one night, I was invited to share for a few minutes at our Saturday morning communion service. Right in the middle of my sharing, a massive windstorm hit. Trees and branches started crashing down, and our church family camp was cut short as camp staff had to clear the grounds for safety reasons. Then the rains came. Miraculously no one was hurt. A sign? If so, I’m still not sure what it meant but the timing was interesting. All I know for sure is that it was time to resume pastoring again and to share the greatest gift that I had received from the sabbatical - the gift of presence.  

On the river at Church Camp  at
Ft. Langley - on the sunset of the Sabbatical