Rev. Cammenga is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.
“If any minister, for the aforesaid or any other reason, is compelled to discontinue his service for a time, which shall not take place without the advice of the consistory, he shall nevertheless at all times be and remain subject to the call of the congregation.”
Church Order, Article 14.
Article 14 is closely connected to the preceding articles of the Church Order. Article 10 deals with dismission from a congregation by a minister who has accepted a call elsewhere. Article 11 deals with permanent dismission from service of a minister by his consistory. Article 12 deals with a minister’s leaving the ministry for a secular vocation. Article 13 deals with dismission from service through emeritation. Article 14, now, deals with temporary dismission from service, what is commonly referred to as leave of absence.
What is the nature of the leave of absence provided for in Article 14? The minister who has been granted a leave of absence is temporarily excused from his ministerial duties. However, during the leave of absence, the minister’s official relationship to the consistory and congregation remains in force.
The article lays down no clear-cut guidelines with respect to specific reasons for a leave of absence. The article is deliberately vague and flexible: “. . . for the aforesaid or any other reason, is compelled to discontinue his service for a time . . . .”
Nevertheless, the article does speak of a minister being “compelled” to take such a leave of absence. That certainly indicates that there must be a significant reason to justify a leave of absence. This reason is to be judged by the consistory and the reason for the leave definitely spelled out in the minute book of the consistory.
Historically the background of this article is the persecution of the Reformed churches. Leaves of absence were granted because persecution often separated a minister from his congregation. Because of the persecution threatening his life, a minister was often forced to flee. This warranted a temporary interruption in his ministerial labors in his congregation. At the same time, this did not break the bond between the minister and his congregation. He remained the pastor of that congregation. But he was granted a temporary leave from his labors in the congregation until the persecution subsided and it was possible for him to resume his work.
Even though persecution was a valid reason for a minister temporarily to discontinue his work in his congregation, he remained bound to that congregation. He remained at all times subject to her call. When the persecution abated, he was obligated to return as her pastor. During the leave, the consistory who had granted him the leave continued to have the jurisdiction over him.
Many other reasons have been used for granting leaves of absence. Leaves have been given for illness. Article 14 speaks of the “aforesaid” reason, referring back to Article 13. It may be the case that illness will not likely permanently incapacitate the minister, requiring emeritation, but only temporarily hinder his work. In that case a leave of absence according to Article 14 would be in order.
Repeatedly ministers have received leaves of absence in order to pursue post-graduate work at some theological school. Leaves have been granted to ministers in order to carry out some commission of the broader assemblies, perhaps serving on an important study committee. Leaves have been granted because of mental or physical exhaustion due to overwork or excessive strain. Leaves have been granted so that a minister might assist in missionary work. Leaves have been granted so that a minister might assist another congregation for a time as a minister-on-loan. The Revs. Baudartium, Bogerman, and Bucerus were given leaves of absence from their consistories in order to work on the new Bible translation authorized by the Synod of Dordt. According to Dr. H. Bouwman, a certain Rev. Lion Cachet obtained a leave of absence in 1891 from the church in Rotterdam in order to investigate the possibility of mission work in India, and the Rev. Vonkenberg received a leave of absence in 1920 from the church in Zwijndrecht in order to serve for a time as director of the Reformed Youth Alliance.
The first stipulation of Article 14 is that a minister must receive the approval of his consistory in order to take a leave of absence. The article speaks of the “advice of the consistory.” Advice here does not mean friendly counsel or suggestion. But advice means approval, consent, agreement, permission. This stands to reason, since the minister exercises his office under the supervision always of the consistory.
The second stipulation of Article 14 is that, at all times during the leaves of absence, the minister remains subject to the re-call of the congregation. At any time during the leave, the consistory may deem it necessary to terminate the leave and re-call the minister. This remains the prerogative of the consistory and a condition on which a leave is always granted.
The third stipulation of Article 14 is that the leave of absence be “for a time.” A leave of absence is only “for a time,” that is, temporary. A definite length of time is referred to. This may be a stipulated time which is noted when the leave of absence is granted. Or it may be the length of time required as long as the reason exists for which the leave was granted. In any case, the length of the leave ought to be a matter definitely understood between the minister and his consistory.
Article 14 does not allow for indefinite leaves of absence. A leave of absence should cover a specific period of time. The Christian Reformed Church Synod of 1928 ruled against the taking by ministers of indefinite leaves of absence.
A congregation which has granted its minister a leave of absence would not necessarily be entitled to classical appointments. The consistory would have to secure its own pulpit supply. The consistory would also have to make arrangements for the other pastoral labors in the congregation: Catechism instruction, sick visiting, etc.
Often today leaves of absence are granted for a stipulated time with the understanding that the minister will not return to labor again in that same congregation. This is usually the case with leaves given for further study. The church granting the leave then proceeds to call another minister. The minister on leave remains officially a minister of that congregation, even though another minister has also been called. When the time of his leave is expired, the consistory makes an appropriate announcement to the churches concerning his eligibility to receive a call.