If a minister, because of illness or for other substantial reasons, requests a temporary release from his service to the congregation, he can receive the same only with the approval of the consistory with the deacons and shall at all times be and remain subject to the call of the congregation.
For various reasons it may be necessary for a minister to interrupt his service to the church to whose call he is subject. It would serve no purpose if we tried the impossible task of drawing up a list of cases in which this could or should be done. All we can do is keep the main line in view, and this main line is, that a minister remains subject to the call of the congregation even though, for various reasons, he may receive permission for some time not to do the work which belongs to his office.
Let us mention some possibilities. The situation might arise that the congregation is scattered and that the minister simply does not have the possibility of shepherding the flock. Such a situation was sometimes found in the days of the Reformation, when persecution raged and hostile forces had occupied a city or village, rendering all ecclesiastical life totally impossible and forcing the believers to flee the city. With no congregation left for the time being, what was a minister to do? He, too, had to flee. Possibly he could serve another church for the time being and there was nothing against it if he did. However, as soon as it was possible for the members to return to their own residence and as soon as they were in a position to resume their ecclesiastical life, the minister was to return as well, to take up his task in their midst again. He was and remained subject to the call once extended to him.
During a war it sometimes happens that a whole city or town is evacuated and that the members are not able to return to their own place for some years even, but are scattered over a wide area, having found refuge here and there. In many instances they will find a church in the place where they settle temporarily, so that they are taken care of. In such a case the minister cannot execute the duties of his office either for as long as the situation lasts. This was the case with our late Rev. F. Kouwenhoven, who was minister in Brouwershaven, the Netherlands, which place was evacuated by the German occupation forces. He then served temporarily the church at Kampen, and returned to his charge as soon as possible after the end of the war. But then he discovered that they did not wish to follow him on the path of the Reformation of 1944. Thus he could not resume his duties among them: they no longer recognized him as their minister.
There are other reasons as well why a minister may (have to) interrupt his service to a church. The judgment whether there indeed are such reasons and whether they are valid and sufficient belongs to the consistory with
the deacons. No minister would be allowed to say at a certain moment, “Brothers, I have come to the conclusion that I should continue my studies full-time for a year, and therefore I am going to take a year off. I will be back a year from now.”
When the desire is there to devote a year to study, for instance, to write a dissertation to obtain the doctor’s degree, the request for time off has to be made to the consistory with the deacons and they have to decide about it. Only when they permit it, can the plan be executed.
The minister is then not released from the call and the bond; he is only permitted to interrupt his service to the congregation, and as soon as the period agreed upon is over, he returns to take up his task again.
Another possibility is that a minister is requested to serve as a chaplain in the Armed Forces for a year or so. Such an appointment may not be accepted without the consent of the consistory with the deacons. Upon expiration of the term agreed upon he returns to the church that called him and that maintained the call even during the time when it permitted him to interrupt his service to serve as a chaplain.
Illness which requires a long time of convalescence may also cause a minister to request permission to go away for some months, for example, if he had a nervous breakdown and has to get out of the familiar surroundings altogether to recover from it. In the past it also sometimes happened that a minister was allowed to interrupt his service for several years to take part in the work of Bible translation.
Whatever the case may be, two things are clear: no interruption of service is allowed unless the consistory with the deacons agree with it; and the interruption is just that: a temporary release from the duties, that ends as soon as the period agreed upon is at an end.
We do not have to assume that a difference of opinion arises regarding the question whether a request shall be granted or not. If, however, a difference should exist, the proper way would be to ask a classis for advice. Article 44 of our Church Order mentions the possibility of asking classical advice “for the proper government of their church.”
Another question that may be raised here is how things should be arranged financially. Does the church remain responsible for the proper support of its minister? This all depends on the reasons for the temporary release from duties. We are not speaking now of abnormal situations such as persecution or war or such like. Who could give any directives for situations like that? These are situations in which one oftentimes does not know what the next step is to be. What we can discuss now are the cases in which a minister receives leave to pursue his studies, or to function as a chaplain for a year or even two.
In the case of a chaplaincy it is clear that the needs of the minister ought to be met by those who are ultimately responsible for this work. It is more difficult in the case of a “leave of absence” for study purposes. Usually the church continues the payment of the stipend at a reduced percentage. If a minister has sufficient financial means to provide for his own support during the time of absence, the church might decide to interrupt the support during the whole period.
When illness is the cause of prolonged interruption of service, the obligation to continue the full support is obvious. The support may even have to be increased with a view to the extra expenses caused by the illness. No rigid rules can be given nor can any guidelines be drawn up. There is quite a grey area here as far as the financial arrangements are concerned. What is clear is that the bond remains, that the call remains in force and that a release from duties can only be temporary. The decision remains with the consistory with the deacons.
Another element is clear as well: We know of no ministers who wander from place to place at will, having received temporary release. When the reason for such release is no longer there, their place is again with the church that called them.