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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ask the Matriarch — Preaching for Two

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!


  1. I put this into my call when I was negotiating it- which of course makes it easier. At the time, one of the members of the search committee said, "Three months is the standard at the school," and so three months it was. Totally paid.

    The advice I would offer is to not make the same mistakes I did- I planned to start preaching early and then ease back into the routine working 20 hour weeks for a while. Nope. I started preaching a month early and then when I did hit the office there was nothing below 40 hours. I would recommend having REALLY good boundaries on this one, because most churches just don't know what to do.

    The one thing that REALLY irritated me when I got back? Meetings that would drag on and I would have to remind them (again and again) that we would need to end on time because my daughter was waiting to be fed. They NEVER seemed to pick up on or support that and I would leave late almost every time (we just need to get through one or two more things...)

  2. No advice here, but a huge "thanks" for raising the question; I'm hoping to face this dilemma in the next few months. I did get some help from our synod office, but they have a pretty minimal policy. We're working on an update to our staff handbook, but that has gotten bogged down in church hopefully we'll get to it before it's a real issue. I'll be eager to hear from others!

  3. Just a little reminder from one who became a mother through adoption -- some "maternity leave" policies are essentially medical leave policies only. These policies may not cover adoptive parents because they are not recovering from the event of a birth. So make sure you get a *family* leave policy that covers all who become parents through birth, adoption, gaining custody of a family member's child, etc. Good luck and God bless!

  4. My advice?

    E-MAIL ME!

    I am also an associate at a midsize church. I researched this extensively. Especially if the letter writer is Presbyterian, but even if she isn't, I have lots of information to offer.

    They don't call me reverendmother for nothing!

  5. Methodist have a very good policy -- probably because women have ben in the pulpit for 50 years!

    The maternity/paternity leave policy is laid out in the UM Book of Discipline. Even if you aren't Methodist, it would be a good place to start.

    I would be surprised (if it is a large-ish denomination) and women have been pastoring for a while if there isn't a body of work you can research.

  6. Yes talk to your judicatory, or neighboring churches, or anybody you can, so you can say "see what is standard," instead of "I'd like this."

    I have lots of experience with this in several settings!

    My first biological child was born the last semester of seminary. I missed 2 weeks of classes (classes only met once a week) and basically crawled back in the 3rd week - most everyone was totally supportive except one female! prof who marked me down for excessive absences! which none of the men did!

    My second biological child was born when I was an associate pastor in a hugely supportive congregation with a 6 week paid family leave policy, 3 additional months unpaid if I wanted it but of course couldn't afford to do as the breadwinner. I negotiated it to 4 weeks full time and 4 weeks half time leave, and mostly did stay at half time. But I had a stay-at-home husband, so going back to work wasn't nearly as hard as it is for many.

    Now we are in the adoption process for #3 and maybe 4! and I am a solo pastor. It's going to be interesting since I have no idea when we'll get a call about a placement. I've warned everyone, and I'm trying to plan months ahead at a time, but we'll see what happens. I plan to have hymn sing instead of sermon the first week I'm gone, and I have some lay people and a retired pastor in the congregation lined up to step in with a little more notice then for weeks 2,3,4. I have a 4 weeks paid family leave here and can add sick leave, which I rarely use, to that. So I hope to again take at least 3 full weeks off, then not preach for a little longer and try to come back part time for a few more weeks - although it'll be much harder here as the only pastor.

    But as much as family leave time matters, integrating back into the congregation as a new parent is huge. Your role changes, your schedule and priorities change, etc. I talked to everybody I could who had kids about pk baggage, gifts and support from congregation, and still need more collegial support as we go through each stage of life with our kids. I just deleted a paragraph from ce staff member's annual report because she, God knows why, decided to single out my son to tell a story about (hadn't mentioned any other kids by name)! I do put my foot down about my kids - much better at protecting their boundaries than mine!

    Anyway, you will make it through it all, and I pray your congregation will support you as much as I've been supported, even though there will certainly be bumps on the way.


  7. I got a job and had worked out a call agreement but not signed it, when I was, ahem, late. I panicked and asked for maternity leave to be included (although we were not planning to have a second at that time) and they did it. THEN I signed it. Immediately after that, I got my period after all. :) At this church it is optional - 3 months full paid, or 6 months half time, paid (both generous!).

    But it was a valuable lesson and reminded me that no matter plans or life expectations, everyone who is in their child bearing years, including people who are thinking about adopting "someday" but havent yet should ask to have this included this as part of their package.

  8. My contract at Small Church included the typical policy for our Conference. One committee member kept harping on it during the negotiation, which was a bit uncomfortable for everyone, ranting about how it was more than anyone at his company would get.
    I was 41, with three children 7 to 16. I was at that moment unmarried (though I was engaged). I finally cut off the discussion by saying, "It's my hope none of us will have to worry about this." And, thankfully, we didn't.
    I would echo the advice to look for what your denomination recommends at whatever regional or state level of organization you have. Any church employing a staff ought to have this as part of the boilerplate for contracts, if even Small Church did

  9. I'm always appalled that in the USA (and other places) there are such lax benefits for maternity leave and precious little standardisation.

    Here the MINIMUM is very good indeed - and is applicable to all who have worked for 1 year- whatever their job / profession and employee.

    It's one thing that Finland HAS got right and praise God for it.

  10. PS (after reading the comments!) the support for adoptive parents is even better in Finland! Which also says a lot :)

    mind you (probably) wouldn't like our income tax rates - or petrol prices - which is how these benefits are paid for!!!


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