My childhood home was on the edge of a forest and glorified “mountain.” I spent many afternoons in the woods of Mount Douglas Park, charting trails, hopping over streams, observing little critters, lighting the occasional fire, and finding quiet places to play. Inevitably, I explored all there was to explore. But the area never lost a grand sense of mystery—a space where life was waiting to be discovered.
I am about to embark on my first Sabbatical. Although a Sabbatical is a prolonged break from my responsibilities at St. Peter’s, it is not merely an extended vacation or study leave. The late pastor Eugene Peterson lamented both the lack of Sabbaticals for pastors and their reduction to study leave. The pastor should take a Sabbatical, according to Peterson, as a “willed passivity in order to be restored to alert receptivity to spirit-prayer, silence, solitude, worship … it is time to be silent and listen to God.” In a way, Sabbaticals are the healthiest form of play meant to kindle awe and wonder. I have a sense that it is a space where life is waiting to be discovered.
Several people have asked me, “What will you do with your time?” Well, I won’t become a monk. I still have a young family that needs my time, energy, and love. We will travel a little bit around the Province and gulf islands (once permitted) and live in Victoria for six weeks or so. But this time will be book-ended in Vancouver because of school for our daughters and Julia’s counselling practice. Much of our time will remain “normal” (whatever that means these days).
Even so, I will have the time to tend to that intimate place of soul known only before the Lord. My soul is typically slow to emerge. As I read somewhere once, “The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy. It knows how to survive in hard places. But it is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal, we know the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out.” Perhaps this is why my spiritual director has encouraged me to wait upon the Lord to do the work of soul care—which is the “passivity” Peterson speaks of.
Toward the end of my Sabbatical, I hope to begin writing my next book. But only if the Lord permits; and, as our good bishop recommended, only if it gives me joy in being alive. So, in short, I plan to give my time to being present to the Lord, my family, and myself. I hope to return from Sabbatical rested and rejuvenated—not merely due to time off from my regular life but from prolonged time with God.
I approach this milestone with immense gratitude. I am grateful to be part of a denomination/tradition and church that offers Sabbaticals at all. Thank you for this wonderful gift. I feel like a child that has been handed a very expensive vase. I will hold it with great care but probably fill it with unexpected things. I am grateful for the enthusiastic and prayerful support of our leadership team, staff, and church.
I am deeply grateful for Preston, who will increase his responsibilities in my absence (and delegate other responsibilities). I am encouraged for Preston to step into this role. He and Deanna joined St. Peter’s on our second Sunday of services in November 2013. Preston has been a faithful member of our church. Eventually he became an intern with us before serving as one of our pastors over the past three and-a-half years. To entrust my role to someone “home grown” in this way feels like an affirmation of what we’ve sought to do in planting St. Peter’s Fireside. I have the utmost confidence in Preston and our team to lead our church in my absence.
As I enter this time, I will not be worshipping with St. Peter’s. Neither will I be checking my work email. I will also temporarily deactivate my social media accounts. I’ve had several people ask if they can still contact me while I’m away. While I find it difficult to say this, I ask that you would err on not contacting me during this time. If in doubt, ask Preston or Don Lewis (our Pastor’s Warden) first. While I deeply love and enjoy our church, the wisdom of others tells me it is necessary to have these boundaries to honour this time. If you reach out and I redirect you to someone else, please don’t take it personally. My Sabbatical begins May 18th and ends November 8th 2021. I will be back to preaching on November 14th. Upon my return, I look forward to hearing from you all. In the meantime, when you think of us, please pray for the Sterne clan to experience deep rest and rejuvenation in the presence of Jesus.
In many ways, stepping into this time away feels vulnerable. I resonate with Paul when he describes himself as a nursing mother in relationship to the church (1 Thess 2:7). I have witnessed the Lord birth this church from nothing. I have a sense of what Paul means when he speaks of his “anxious concern” for the church (2 Cor 11:28), and I am well acquainted with the “pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19). And the sense of vulnerability in leaving for an extended time is only compounded by the uncertainty of the pandemic. It has already been a long season of being physically distanced from one another. But I also know you and your love for our Lord and for one another. So, during this season, please love one another more and more (1 Thess 4:10), seek to do good to all especially the household of faith (Gal 6:10), and make leadership a joy for Preston and the team through your faithfulness (Heb 13:17). Above all, “Never flag in Zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, and serve the Lord” as you stir your affections for him (Rom 12:11 RSV).
With love and gratitude,