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This summer in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) I’m working with men in an addiction recovery program. I’ve appreciated the privilege of joining these men on their journey toward sobriety. I grew close to two men in the program who both recently discharged. Both have been in the grief and loss group that I’ve been leading. Both told me remarkable stories of their joys and challenges, their children and families, wasted opportunities and renewed determination.

One of them successfully completed the program, for which I give thanks to God, but I was disappointed that I wasn’t tracking his day of discharge. He left without our saying good bye. I wanted to wish him well to his face, but I can still pray for him. The other was abruptly discharged from the program, because he was caught using a drug. I sat with this man shortly before he left. Still on parole, he didn’t know what would happen to him. He might be in jail or homeless. As we talked, I saw the disappointment, guilt, fear, and sorrow in his face and heard them in his voice. My heart broke with him. In talking to staff, I’ve learned that relapse is a sadly common part of addiction recovery. Alcohol and other substances hold the lives of users tightly and don’t want to let them go.

Soon my study leave will end. I’m looking forward to working again with Christian Reformed churches, with disability advocates, and with fellow staff in the CRC and the Reformed Church in America Disability Concerns ministries. I’m excited to work with a brand new Disability Concerns staff person who will be working in the CRC’s Burlington office. I take great pleasure in helping equip leaders for service in their churches and classes.

I feel some sadness, though, as I think about leaving my summer work. In chaplaincy and in parish ministry which I did for 17 years, I joined people in their journeys, baptized babies and adults, buried spouses and children, joined couples in marriage, and worked shoulder to shoulder in bringing the good news and love of Jesus to our neighbors. In my denominational work, I’m one step removed from the action; I work through others. That's the nature of the work.

In his book, The Fly in the Ointment: Why Denominations Aren’t Helping Their Congregations . . . And How They Can, J. Russell Crabtree argues that denominational and regional association leaders must derive success through others. “A regional association leader must value indirect success; that is, success through others. They must find their emotional paycheck through the achievements they help others realize (p. 38).”

As I get back to Disability Concerns, I’ll embrace indirect success as I see people gain a vision for engagement of people with disabilities throughout church life. As I do, I’ll carry in my heart the men I met this summer, and pray for their sobriety.


Thank you so much for allowing us to see into your sabbatical journey. I resonated with much of what you expressed. Thank you for following the call to work through others.

Thanks Mark. Direct, and indirect ministry is a helpful distinction to keep in mind. I often tell our safe church team members that they are the ones "on the front lines" doing the real work of safe church ministry, and it's true - it can't happen any other way. I often miss my time on the "front lines" leading support groups for survivors, doing inner healing prayer ministry and seeing God show up in the most amazing ways. Denominational work can seem a bit boring by comparison. Yet there is rarely a dull moment in my work here either; it often takes more than all my resources, driving me to my knees to wrestle with the Lord in prayer. And thankfully, I've seen God work here too, even in the denominational headquarters! (of all places) It takes all of us working together, in the places where we are called, on many different levels. Then together we can rejoice as we begin to realize to a greater degree God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

 Glad that you learned much, and looking forward to renewed contact.  Our new pastor and his family are moving in this week, so we'll have a more normal congregational life starting in a few weeks.  In the meantime, if I didn't tell you already, I'm working on the transcript of an oral presentation on preventing Alzheimer's Disease, and it seems it can be done through dietary changes.  

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