I am looking for some advice about maternity leave. I am the associate pastor at a mid-size church and am expecting my first child this year. I have no doubt my congregation will be supportive, but we don't currently have a policy for family leave. What is reasonable to request in terms of paid or unpaid time off, and how much? What is fair to expect from them?
Thanks for any words of wisdom.
Hey! You've discovered Peripatetic Polar Bear's personal pet peeve: churches that do not have a maternity leave policy because they've never had a pregnant pastor. (I really wanted to roll with the alliteration there.) "It's so unfair to make this be personal to you—awkward for all involved," she writes. "I have no words of wisdom, other than this is the same as not having fire insurance because you've never had a fire."
Jan feels similarly: "Attention to all church staff members, lay leaders, officers, etc: get a maternity leave policy before somebody needs it. That way, it's not a personal response to a particular person."
At her first church, where she was a solo pastor, she notes that her child was (conveniently) born during the summer. They hired a seminary intern, home for the summer and living with her parents, and paid her the equivalent of half Jan's salary. Jan got the other half, and it allowed her to take two months off. At her second church, where she co-pastored with her husband, both part-time, she took time off and her husband filled in full time. "No change in pay," she observes. "But we got ripped off, clearly."
In your case, she notes (with hearty congratulations), it will depend on a number of factors, including the size of the church and what they can afford (as opposed to what they think they can afford).
Abi says she doesn't exactly have experience requesting maternity leave, but she did take adoption leave. "Our conference has a policy on that, and the church I was serving abided by that policy, thankfully," she writes.
Go higher up
It was like a chorus: PPB, Karen, Jan and Abi practically said it in one voice. As Karen put it, "Check with your judicatory body—Presbytery, Conference, Diocese, whatever—and see if they have any standards or recommendations. When I was facing maternity leave, it was very helpful to be able to go to my Session and say, 'This is what Presbytery recommends.'"
Abi notes that if that doesn't work or isn't an option for you, to check with other churches in your area to see what policies they have. And you can always pull up the Family Medical Leave Act, which, even though it won't apply to 99.99 percent of pregnant pastors legally can still be a helpful resource in making a case for establishing a policy for expectant mothers AND fathers. (Er, and Mothers and Fathers, so to speak.)
Jan does caution that "your situation is different from the teacher who goes on maternity leave or the banker who goes on maternity leave. Most likely, your congregation will see your child as 'their child' and you need to prepare for that reality as much as you need to rest, recover, take naps with a cute newborn on your chest, etc."
Eek. I hear my biological clock ticking. But yes. Best of luck! Many blessings!
Any other postpartum pastors lurking about with information to share? (There I go with the alliteration again.) Please do so in the comments. AND send your questions to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!