Around Christmas 2012 while Dale Harris, Lead Pastor at The Freeway FMC in Courtice, ON, was walking his daughter to the bus stop she mentioned she had SASS club that day at school. SASS stands for Student Association of Student Songwriters and soon this club would have a significant impact on Dale’s life.
The SASS club is part of an inter-school student songwriters network in Oshawa which was started by a local music producer. Each school is matched with a local musician/mentor who meets with the club weekly to assist with artistic expression and song writing. Clubs from participating schools meet for district wide contests, recitals and events.
It turns out that at Dale’s daughter’s school the teachers were running the SASS club and were in need of a mentor to volunteer with the kids one hour a week. It also turns out that Dale is a songwriter but in recent years had no time to pursue it.
God’s timing really is a thing of beauty because Dale’s involvement with SASS began right around the time he took a two month medical from the church for burnout (physical and/or mental exhaustion caused by overwork or stress.) As Dale explains, “It was a point in my life where finding a meaningful connection outside of the church in the community really fed my soul and it was something that was completely different but had a purpose.” The teachers were so thankful for Dale’s time and talents but he told them, “This really kept me sane through a difficult time.”
His involvement in SASS club inspired Dale to write a number of songs which helped him process what God was doing in his life during his burnout. At the end of year SASS recital, Dale was the accompanying musician. He was also asked to share one his own songs. He introduced his song (one written during his medical leave) this way, “In my work I’m a pastor and I use a book called the Psalms. There are prayers in there about being sad with God but also being happy with God and how he meets us in both.”
After the recital several people approached Dale and shared that his song deeply spoke to them. Some parents and teaches asked for a copy of his lyrics. Many commented that they didn’t know he was a pastor, “It was a really positive natural way of talking about my faith and spiritual things.” A few months later The Freeway held a concert where Dale shared more of the songs he had written through that time. One of the teachers from the school attended and spoke to Dale about some of his mental health struggles.
Dale won the school’s Volunteer of Distinction Award for his work with SASS in 2013-2014. When he went to the regional awards dinner he was struck by, “How easy it is to get insulated in the church and do our own thing and not really realize that we are a part of this larger community and we have a calling to be involved.”
This school year Dale continues to mentor and is hatching plans for a SASS club cd or concert with a house band. The Freeway has a ministry relationship with a long-term care facility in the community and Dale thinks this could be a great venue for the concert. Pretty cool stuff when the dots start connecting.
Dale is praying that God would continue to make these community/church connections happen, “I had tried to manufacture some kind of meaningful neighborhood connection and it never happened. But when I was in that broken place and I wasn’t looking God provided the connection.”