Three Christian Reformed pastors and their congregations are among the 190 recipients of 2021 National (U.S.) Clergy Renewal Program grants. The grants, administered by Christian Theological Seminary, in Indianapolis, Ind., are funded through Lilly Endowment Inc. They’ve been awarded every year since 2000 to provide pastors with a respite from ministry work for focused personal and spiritual renewal and to help restore congregations for vibrant and effective ministry. (CTS has managed the program since 2012.)
This year Sanctuary Christian Reformed Church in Seattle, Wash., received a grant for Pastor Mark Mohrlang, Platte (S.D.) CRC received one for Pastor Drew Hoekema, and Westwood CRC in Kalamazoo, Mich., received one for Pastor Michael Koetje. Their programs of renewal will begin in 2022.
Congregations and pastors apply together for the program, each completing separate parts of
the application. Details include why they are applying, what they will be doing, and how the sabbatical will benefit the pastor and congregation. Applications are due in April, and successful recipients are notified in August. Congregations can request up to $50,000. Christian Theological Seminary does not say how many applications it receives each year but notes the program is competitive and “we receive more high-quality proposals that we are able to fund in any given year.” Being denied and being encouraged to reapply is common. Both Koetje and Mohrlang were approved on their second application.
Westwood CRC requested $48,282 with plans for Koetje to travel to and take courses at Jerusalem College, visit the Pacific Northwest, and to spend time in Europe. His sabbatical is centered on a theme of living water. Koetje said the sabbatical will provide “time and space for spiritual renewal, physical and emotional refreshment, experiential learning, and strengthening of family relationships.”
Koetje, Mohrlang, and Hoekema all see time away from ministry for renewal as essential. Mohrlang pointed out the Biblical example in Exodus 23:11 of letting land lie fallow every seven years, for the land to be more productive. Hoekema said he understands that being in full-time ministry is not harder than other jobs, but the spiritual and emotional toll it can take requires times of renewal to ensure a continued and effective ministry in the long term.
The theme of Hoekema’s sabbatical plan is “Riches in Christ.” He intends to take classes at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., and to spend time with his family and focus on those important relationships.
Mohrlang’s plans include a trip to Europe, some shorter local trips for personal reflection, and spending some time in the recording studio to get back to his musical roots.
Congregations may allot a portion of the funds to hire fill-in preachers and to pursue their own renewal projects. Westwood CRC plans to explore the living water theme with a worship coach and to create a theme-based banner.
At the end of the sabbatical period, Christian Theological Seminary asks each recipient to report about their leave and the results. Grants are open to Christian congregations in 49 U.S. states (there is a separate program for Indiana) that have an ordained pastor.
Lis Van Harten, director of the CRC's Pastor Church Resources, said she has encouraged eligible pastors to apply for many years. She said 65 Christian Reformed pastors have received grants since 2000. The 2022 grant application is open now, and the deadline to apply is April 27, 2022.
Pastor Church Resources also keeps a list of other programs related to sabbatical opportunities for pastors.