Fallow Ground: Fallow Makes Fertile

“Sow with a view to righteousness, Reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD Until He comes to rain righteousness on you.” -Hosea 10:12 I grew up in small-town North Dakota. My father, who was a rural preacher, grew up on a farm. Each Sunday afternoon we would have to go for the “Sunday drive” around the countryside to “look at the crops.” I rarely saw the weekly changes that my father found so interesting. It was during those rides, however, that I learned what different crops looked like, what a “dirty” or “clean” field was, and the ongoing effects of too much or too little rain. We also talked about the farming practice of “fallow fields.” Before the current practice of field-design planting, farmers would rotate crops in a field year-to-year in order to prevent depleting the soil of certain nutrients that was caused by growing the same crops year after year. Yet the wise farmer, my dad told me, let a field go fallow every few years. Although there was no income from that field for that year, the benefit of “letting the ground rest,” as he described it, enabled bigger yield crops in the following years. Fallow ground becomes fertile ground. “It’s just like everything,” he said, “Performance is always better after a rest.” This summer, for the first time in my 24-year ministry, I am taking a Renewal Leave. For three months, June 4 – Sept. 2, I will not be engaging in any pastoral duties at Forest Hills Church, and I will be attending worship elsewhere during this time. Our Conference encourages pastors to take renewal leave (at least a month every six years), as a way to alleviate pastoral burnout. Pastors are “on call” 24/7, often work well above normal hours (my average is 55 hours a week), rarely get a “full weekend” away from work like most people, and continually engage in high-stress situations and responsibilities. It is a time to fall in love again with pastoral ministry, to receive a fresh approach to a pastor’s current ministry context, and to recharge one’s passion and zeal. My brother, a United Methodist pastor in Wisconsin, took a three-month Renewal Leave two years ago and was so blessed by it that he told me, “Your church needs you to do it!” It was the principle of fallow ground. His energy and ambition for pastoral ministry was renewed! He was excited to throw himself fully into the ministry again, and his church felt the effects. “Performance is always better after a rest.” God makes fallow ground into fertile ground.  God has put all the pieces in place to make this happen for me this year. Pastor Andrew, our church’s associate pastor, is ready to take on all pastoral duties for the summer. Our Conference has provided financial support to help cover the cost of additional pastoral coverage. Friends and colleagues have stepped up to “fill in the gap.” This is also a significant year for our family. Rebekah is graduating this spring and will be heading off to the University of Jamestown, North Dakota, in the fall. We can’t believe it’s here already! Nathan is a high school junior in the fall, too. They are growing into adults. This summer is good timing for my Renewal Leave. Years ago, when Reese and I lived in England for a year, we learned about the European custom of a “gap year.” Students would take a year between high school and college and travel across Europe to expand their education of language, culture, and history by learning “on site.” Youth hostels are scattered across Europe providing cheap dorm-style lodging for backpacking students on their “gap year.” Reese and I thought this was a fantastic idea, something we really don’t do in America. So, we committed that we wanted to expose our kids to an on-site educational travel experience like this. We started saving our dollars! Reese’s employer–truly a miracle…ask her about it sometime–agreed to an extended leave from work so we could travel together as a family for seven weeks. An additional part of my goal this summer is to scout for Christian History Study Tours that Reese and I can lead in the future. I want to put together tours of Medieval Christianity, Christian History in Eastern Europe, and the Bohemian/Hussite Reformation (Prague, Czech Republic). Further, I have located the ancestral village of the Werner family, located in rural Poland (which used to be part of Prussia, Germany). I would love to find some Werner gravestones from before my ancestors emigrated to America. So, this all culminates in our summer plans this year: my Renewal Leave, cultural/educational tour of Europe for our kids, scouting for future tours, and then getting Rebekah off to college in the fall. Rebekah graduates on June 7th, and the next day (!) we fly out for Europe. We begin in Germany, flying into Frankfurt. We’ll drive first to Berlin, where we will spend five days (June 10-15). From there we’ll head into Poland (June 16-18), and then Vienna (June 19-23). We’ll be in Prague (June 24-27) and then Munich (June 28-July 1). From there we head into Italy, first at Venice (July 2-3), then San Marino (July 4), Naples (July 5-6), Rome (July 7-11), Florence (July 12-17), and Milan (July 15-17). We then nip into southeast France, the French Riviera (July 18-20), before our stay in Geneva, Switzerland (July 21-22). From there we go back into southwestern and western Germany (July 23-24) before a quick drive through Luxembourg, Brussels, and the Netherlands (July 25-26). We fly out again from Frankfurt but spend a day in Iceland (July 27) before arriving back home on July 28. Our trip will be filled with museums, cathedrals, palaces, castles, and cultural experiences. We want to make this adventure about learning and education. Yet we also have a lot of fun pieces in the plans, as well as spending time together as a family. Part of my renewal will be sitting in a sidewalk café, enjoying local foods, soaking up the atmosphere. We expect to encounter God in predictable (at holy sites) and unpredictable ways, as well.  We will worship, pray, and learn of God’s activity throughout history together. We also anticipate discovering God in each other in new ways, as we live closely together on this adventure. The end of the summer will bring Reese back at work, my mother visiting, Nathan back in football and boy scout summer camp, and Rebekah in her final YPA performance and then off to college. Me? I’ll be compiling memoirs of our travels, doing some days of NOTHING, and grappling with emotions as we leave Rebekah in Jamestown. When I come back to church after Labor Day, ministry will be in full swing for fall programming. But I anticipate I will be different. The fallow ground of this summer I pray God will turn into fertile soil of ministry ahead. I will then be able to follow the instructions of the prophet Hosea: “Sow with a view to righteousness, Reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD until He comes to rain righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12) Part of my prayers of preparation for this summer include praying for God to grant you, in whatever ways work for you, a time of fallow rest this summer, too. I pray that God will enrich the soil of your ministries and produce yields of bountiful harvests in the future. If nothing else, I charge you to observe and honor a weekly Sabbath during your summer. (Perhaps add a Sunday drive into your routine)! Preserve some true down time, and time away with God, so He can rejuvenate your soul. May we all experience God in powerful and new ways this summer! Renewal blessings, Pastor David