By Julie Cole
Dale Harris has experienced some surprising turns on his life’s journey.
The Briercrest seminary graduate went to teacher’s college in Alberta and taught English for seven years before he felt God was calling him into full time ministry. His wife Dani was hesitant to make the shift, so Harris took a year’s sabbatical to weigh things out. With the issue still undecided at the end of that year he returned to teach English for another two years.
During that time Dani went on a prayer retreat. Attendants of the retreat each received a written prayer that they were asked to meditate on during their time there. The first sentence of the prayer said, “Lord, I surrender everything to you.” She was challenged to give God her concerns about the future and returned home ready to explore options for her husband’s ministry training.
“From the day (Dani) said ‘I’m ready to go.’ it was two to three weeks later we were out at Briercrest for an on-site visit.” Harris recalled.
They liked the family-oriented focus Briercrest seminary had, so the Harris family made the move to Caronport in 2004.
“One of the things I loved about Briercrest was that it was so interdenominational,” Harris said. “(I got to) worship and study with people from all sorts of branches of the family tree. It was really a blessing and a challenge.”
The challenge came from the personal growth and change Harris experienced in his spiritual life as a result of his Briercrest experience. After graduation, as he considered ministry options, he wasn’t sure exactly where he fit—which denomination to choose, if any.
About that time he ran across a posting for a pastoral position in a Free Methodist church in BC. As he and his wife researched the denomination and its doctrinal beliefs, something clicked.
Looking at the posting, Harris said, “This is exactly where I’m at!” He applied for the position and had a positive interview. In the end the church decided not to hire him because they were a small congregation and didn’t think they could pay him an adequate salary. They did, however, put Harris in touch with the leadership of the Free Methodist church.
“From there the ball started going really fast,” Harris remembered.
A short time afterward, Harris was hired as the senior pastor for The Free Way Church in Oshawa, Ont. where he currently serves.
“I call it a church on a shoe string,” Harris laughed. “We rent a worship space from another church, and the church we were planted out of still supplies administrative help and space for a church office.”
The congregation is intergenerational with ages ranging from 94 down to new born, although the majority of the group is composed of young families. The church’s mission statement is “A safe place for the journey.”
“That really does describe our DNA in a lot of ways,” Harris asserted. “People who come the The Free Way for the first time often tell me that’s how they feel.”
As he leads his congregation, Harris finds himself drawing on the wisdom and class material of several of his Briercrest professors.
Among these are Dale Dirksen who helped Harris to better discover his particular gifts and talents, and Blayne Banting, whose preaching method Harris still uses for his sermons. He reserves special praise for David Guretzki.
“(Guretzki taught me) the determination to think about things theologically.” Harris said. “He was constant in his insistence on processing from a theological framework that’s centered around Christ. He taught me to bring theology and pastoral ministry together.”
Harris is grateful for his Briercrest experience.
“All of the instructors poured into me,” he insisted. “I call Briercrest the best kept secret on the prairies! There’s world class instruction and work being done here.”
As he considers his journey from English teacher in Alberta to senior pastor in Ontario, Harris is amazed at how God worked through every twist and turn along the way.
“Looking back on all those closed doors I can see it was God’s way of directing us to a place where I could be authentic as the kind of pastoral leader He wanted me to be.”
More information about The Free Way can be found at thefreeway.ca.