How do you handle those invitations? How do you decline gracefully, and probably often?
Thanks for the help-
Overinvited but Grateful Pastor
Our matriarchs all agree that socializing with parishoners is work (even if it is fun!) and they express a deep respect for family/couple time:
Long Time Rector says:
I accept almost all dinner invitations or social invitations that I can. I do see them as work and take off time for them - honestly maybe not on a 1:1 basis exchange - but I think it is important that you honor this as work, not play. And I have found it worthwhile work - it is the time and place where relationships build and deepen. I take almost any chance to get more connected with the congregation. Being an introvert - it takes a toll, and that's why I take other time off. Could you maybe take time off for nice lunches with your husband? Conversely, I think it is perfectly acceptable to say - Wednesday, Friday and Sunday are family nights for us - or something like that. Boundaries are good to set. But set in a way that is fair for parishioners as well - that way they don't feel like you are capriciously rejecting them.
Earthchick also receives many invitations:
My current congregation is very socially-oriented, and my husband and I get many social invitations. For the first couple of years we were here, we accepted the majority of them, provided we were actually available. This often included engagements on what was otherwise our day off (Friday). I considered it a part of my job - to accept hospitality, as well as to get to know my new congregation. We have been here 8+ years now, and we still get plenty of social invitations, though not nearly to the same degree as in year's past. We decide on a case-by-case basis which ones to accept. Birthday parties and anniversary events, we almost always go to if we are available. I feel like it is an honor to be invited to such an occasion, and I feel like it is part of my job to accept. Accepting the hospitality of other people is part of ministry, in my opinion.
It is very tough, especially if you have children. Parishioners don't always realize that an evening in their home can cost us $50 in babysitting. And many of them don't realize how many nights during a week we are already out because of meetings and other church obligations. If the invitation is not a special occasion kind of event, and we have already been spending a lot in babysitting and/or spending too many evenings away from home, I feel very comfortable declining the invitation.
My advice to you would be that, while you are still new to the congregation, accept as many invitations as you can accept without completely overwhelming your calendar. The invitations will almost certainly slow down after you have been there a little while. Regardless of what congregants think, it is work, and it can be exhausting. When you do accept an invitation, try to find a way to take some "comp time" in return, if you can. Break your calendar into segments - morning, afternoon, evening. If you are out too many evenings with parishioners, find some mornings or afternoons to take off from the office.
Singing Owl weighs in on the need for couple time:
There is nothing wrong with letting people know, gently, that you have limited time with your husband and need to safeguard that. In fact, it might serve as a good example of setting healthy boundaries and priorities. Is there a tactful and appropriate way to let the entire congregation know that you have limited time at home? A tired and resentful and overtaxed parson is no good to anyone. One caution: if you determine how many invitations you can accept, be careful that you do not appear to be playing favorites. I know this is tricky. I mean, we all know that some people will invite you over often and some people will never invite you anywhere.
My husband and I have only two week nights when we are both home. That means that we have an unbreakable rule that one of those two nights must be spent at home, barring dire emergencies or deaths. I have rearranged my schedule to fit somewhat with his, but I don’t know if you are able to do that.
I think that it is almost universally true that parishioners will not understand that there is never a time when a pastor can “forget you are a pastor and just be a guest.” Most people probably mean that kindly but there are those, sadly, who may not. That is one difference between a job and a calling. Being a pastor, IMO, is a 24/7 job. Even people who mean only good by that statement will not understand that being a pastor is not something one can take on and off like a coat. That is why pastors need lots of time to get away. I think that to forget you are a pastor and just be a guest is just about impossible, but also to do so is an unwise thing. I do think that it is possible to be on friendly terms with folks in the church, but the elephant is always in the room. And should be, in my opinion.
You are right, it just does not work. Time with parishioners, even friendly time, is part of the calling and thus part of the job. Accept the invitations when you can and decline when you need to. Otherwise, as you likely already know, you will end up tired and resentful. You won’t seem ungrateful if you decline with genuine appreciation and warmth, and honesty about your need to be home with your husband.
Rector in Hawaii adds: What I've learned to do is respond with "What a nice invitation! I'd love to come but I've already made plans for that night or lunch that day or whatever." And you have. You've already made plans to relax with your husband and have some alone time. Making appointments with ourselves is just as important, if not more so, as spending time with parishioners.
One of our new matriarchs, Ceramic Episcopalian, (who blogs at http://ceramicepiscopalian.
Talk other staff members. Is there a policy in place about how to handle this situation (and if no formal policy, is there an unwritten 'way things are done' that you should be aware of)?
Talk to your spouse and come up with a plan for maintaining your time together-- either by setting aside certain evenings of the week as 'your time' or limiting the total number of events attended.
Use the guidelines from the staff and your family along with the written record to help you decide which events to attend. If you are going to accept invitations, make sure to spread yourself around so that you get to see different sets of people. As for declining gracefully, just say that you are sorry that your are unable to attend. Do not over-explain or give excuses.
Consider such events as work time and plan for their impact accordingly. Keep track of which congregant's events you attend and how open they are (by which I mean are they parties that the congregation as a whole is invited to, or are they events that only the congregant's friends are invited to). I would recommend keeping notes to ensure an objective record.
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