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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - Sharing Big News with the Congregation

This week's question springs from happy news:

I am a part-time associate pastor at a mid-sized church. I'm currently 11 weeks pregnant, and hope to schedule a meeting with the senior pastor, the congregation president, and the chair of the personnel committee to tell them about my pregnancy after my first ultrasound, which is coming up in about 10 days. I mentioned to all of them earlier this year, in confidence, that my husband and I were hoping to have a baby, so I don't think the news is going to come as a complete surprise; in fact, I know the personnel chair has even been giving some thought to maternity leave arrangements.

My question is, how is the news of an associate pastor's pregnancy usually announced to the rest of the congregation? Is this something that gets announced on Sunday morning, or does the news spread more organically? If I were a solo pastor I could see sending out a letter to the congregation, letting them know how my maternity leave would be handled, but I'm not sure that is necessary in my case (especially since most of my duties relate to education programming and my leave will fall over the less-active summer months).

Ruth, who blogs at Sunday's Coming, writes:
It’s hard to know what’s ‘usual’ isn’t it – but maybe it helps to hear how it might work – how it has worked for someone else. First of all let me make it clear I am a ‘splurger’ - of course there are times when I can be sensible, measured, and can keep confidences, but when it comes to my ‘stuff’ - especially if it’s good news, I would rather blurt it out to the whole world and have done with it.

I had been in my first church just 3 months when I found out I was pregnant, but since I had made it clear to them that this was my hope... I just couldn’t wait to share the good news. They were great – my daughter was looked for and longed for by the whole congregation, and then goo-ed over and chuckled under the chin by a whole host of new grandmas and grandads: it never occurred to me to do anything other than share with the whole congregation what was happening – when she was due, how I was feeling (especially when I felt sick in early stages, or suffered from short-term memory loss which once made me forget we’d changed the time of the service...), when my maternity leave would start & finish, etc, etc.

I was really fortunate – they were a wonderful group of people and I never had a moment’s hesitation in wanting to share this wonderful event with them. I think this meant they never resented time I spent with my daughter, or changes of plan if she was ill, or the requests I made for baby-sitters.

My advice would be to tell them all as much as you feel comfortable sharing – in a ‘proper’ announcement, so they all know they’re meant to know, and share in it. I hope you are blessed with joy as we were: even now some folk remember the prayers I led at the Christmas service with my baby asleep in my arms...what words could I use to better reveal love incarnate? God bless you.


RevHoney, who sometimes blogs at Somewhere South of Somewhere, offers:
When I was pregnant and in a similar team setting as yours, we found that publishing the good news in the monthly newsletter was the best way for us. I was most comfortable waiting until into the 2nd trimester to make the announcement, and when we had reached that point, I simply shared the news in my monthly column. I didn’t go into detail about maternity leave, but left that for the Personnel team to share with the congregation through the newsletter as the blessed date drew near.

Wishing you health and joy+
What about others of you? How have you handled this kind of announcement? In my setting, where my husband and I pastor together, we announced at the end of a worship service one Sunday; that felt appropriate, and it was very happily received. No matter how happy congregants may be about the news of the pregnancy, there may still be anxiety about how duties may be handled while you're on leave. Because of this, I think it's important that those arrangements be communicated clearly to the congregation. I think RevHoney is right on with letting the Personnel team (or Pastor Relations Committee, or whatever body oversees issues like maternity leave) communicate with the congregation about leave arrangements.

What have others of you done, or what thoughts do you have?

As always, questions for the matriarchs can be sent to askthematriarch@gmail.com

18 comments:

  1. I was a member of a church one time where the ministers husband during the prayer time asked for prayers of joy, for M__, who was going to be a big sister next summer. There was big joyful hurrah after that prayer, and I remember really thinking that was a good idea at the time. Dont know if others have tried this or whatever....

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  2. In reading this, I was trying to remember how we announced the pregnancy of my second child, my daughter, when I was also a part-time pastor at a mid-size congregation. I know it was a bit less formal, in fact (hiding face), I believe our Consistory president found out after his daughter read it on my Facebook page, ahem, but in that congregation as long as the Senior Pastor knew, he had thought he would take care of disseminating the information to the other committees (he also didn't plan very far ahead). So, in hindsight, it may have been better to sit everyone down.

    Anyway, it all went okay, the congregation was thrilled, and I think that we announced it in a way similar to what Juniper mentioned, in saying "Jack is going to be a big brother..."

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  3. Oh, and I just realized, in rereading the original post, that I would like to STRONGLY recommend that things are hammered out regarding your maternity leave ASAP. I had also been promised that "everything would be handled and it will be okay," and when it came down to it, the original answer was that I could have time off but no pay, which was unacceptable to me and led to many tears and tension in my life, and many meetings negotiating the issue within the church. Certainly, it could have been handled much better depending on the leadership, but it was a very difficult time for me and left me quite disillusioned. So, for the sake of your enjoyment of your pregnancy and your ministry during this time, I would just recommend getting everything finalized and in writing as soon as you can.

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  4. I am currently 25 weeks pregnant, so I just went through this myself a few months ago. I, too, am a part-time associate. I spoke with the senior pastor and told him that the most important thing to me was making sure we at least TRIED to let everyone know at once (so that people wouldn't wonder, "Well, why did she tell so-and-so?"). For that reason, I actually didn't tell our lay leadership first.

    We decided Sunday morning announcements/prayer concerns made the most sense, but I didn't want to do it on my own ("Hey, I'm pregnant! Please don't forget the Outreach meeting at 7pm on Wednesday." seemed weird to me). So I asked the senior pastor if he would do it and he said he would be happy to.

    He actually did it during the Children's Sermon in a very sweet way. He talked with the kids about how exciting it is to look forward to a tiny baby (like Christmas and Jesus is so exciting for everyone) and then said we were going to have a new baby in our congregation. He then had the kids hand out a little "I love daddy" and "I love mommy" onesies to us, and that's how people found out. It was really cute and kind. I had no idea he would do it that way.

    It was a special memory, for sure.

    All of the other stuff - maternity leave, schedule for after baby comes, etc. is being handled "offstage" with the lay leadership.

    Hope that helps! GOOD LUCK! Enjoy this wonderful time in your lives!

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  5. I did what Juniper mentioned. During the Prayers of the People, I prayed for my parents, "who will be grandparents next spring." It was especially fun to see the congregation's faces afterwards. It was a fun way to announce it, and everyone found out at once.

    Regarding leave, I hope that provisions were made when you signed your call agreement/contract at the beginning of your ministry. It may different for a part-time associate. I already had paternity leave written in, so it was just a matter of giving various committees (Consistory/governing board, Elders/spiritual care, pastoral relations) a heads-up about when it'll likely fall. From there you can arrange people to fill in while you're gone and such.

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  6. I recently got engaged and was trying to figure out how to let the congregation know. In the end I told the staff and they suggested that during "Welcome of New Visitors" I introduce my new fiancee! Everyone applauded and telling the congregation publicly with congratulations was much easier than needing tell folks one-by-one.

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  7. I'm the only pastor in my setting, so my situation is different. I chose to share the news during the announcements one Sunday morning. I simply told the congregation that my husband and I were very excited to announce the impending arrival of a son or daughter. They applauded and, as folks left the service, gifted me with hugs and prayer promises. It was a joyful celebration, that's for sure.

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  8. I literally just announced my pregnancy to my congregation a week and a half ago. I actually did a combination of things--literally, in the week before I started telling people very casually. That Sunday morning I told the choir and anyone else who was around before church so they had time to process before worship began. Then, at the end of the service, my partner came forward with me and we announced our good news. It worked out well because it didn't feel like I was going to be shocking the socks off of everyone all at once, yet everyone found out within the same week (mostly within the same 2 hours). Lots of congratulations and support and a very generous maternity leave policy followed! I also mentioned it in the next newsletter (which went out this week) for the folks who weren't there that Sunday. All in all, I felt good about how it all worked out (I too waited until my second trimester to announce).

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  9. I agree with those who have advised to have maternity arrangements in place ASAP. Ideally, ours would have been in place when we signed our call agreement, but instead the search committee simply made us a promise that it would be worked out after we arrived. It ended up having to be at our initiative. They had never had a female minister of child-bearing age before, so it was a new thing (there was a small provision for unpaid leave in the personnel policies for other staff - but the pastors here aren't covered by that policy.)

    We began to negotiate a policy months before we got pregnant, but it took so long to hammer out all the details with all the appropriate bodies, that we were actually already pregnant when the policy was finally voted into place. The congregation, of course, didn't know we were pregnant at that time. We waited a few more weeks before announcing(I was 10 weeks along, with twins, and was definitely showing so we felt we had to go ahead and let people know).

    The anxiety of trying to get that policy into place was really stressful. In the end it all worked out very well (we got the terms we wanted and people were very supportive of that), but I definitely think it's best to get things hammered out as soon as possible and then communicated to the congregation.

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  10. My story begins with a miscarriage at week 11. Had not shared the pregnancy with anyone, not even family (found out things were not good at the first ultrasound). Because of this, I had to take an unexpected week off of work during Advent for medical care. Told my co-pastor, and NO ONE else. Too painful.

    Second pregnancy went well, ultrasound looked good, and I announced round about week 13 by telling my colleague on Tuesday and then explaining that I would share with the staff on Wednesday, at the end of our normal staff meeting time.

    After that, I sat down with Exective team of council (who functions like a personnel cmte) to look at our synod guidelines for maternity/paternity leave at their next regularly-scheduled meeting. It was probably about 2 weeks after the news had gotten out, so early enough that the tone of the discussion was very gracious. (I'm ELCA and each synod approves guidelines each year for pay/benefits/sick leave/etc. THANK YOU LORD--this saves a lot of bickering.) I did presented all of this myself, as I felt it was important to be the conversation partner with those leaders.

    If you do not have guidelines, I would check with the local school district and ask their policy. You function at least at the professional level of a teacher--this would give you some idea of the community's norms. (My school district has 8 weeks for normal delivery, 12 for ceasarean, and the option to add on more time without pay if one chooses. Most choose 12 weeks.)

    Third time, second healthy pregnancy, I proceeded in the same manner.

    I cannot echo enough how these maternity leaves MUST be figured out as soon as possible. First, it gives the congregation a chance to talk about what to do with the vacancy (if you're solo), or how to re-arrange things (if you're a team).

    In my guidelines, FULL pay is expected for 6 weeks. I added two weeks of vacation on to that, plus my two weeks of continuing ed (who's going to fly to the festival of homies with a breastfeeding 3 month old?). I told them to take the $ set aside for my cont ed that year and pay for pulpit supply, so that my colleague wouldn't have to preach for 10 weeks straight. Though I had shared my proposal ahead of time with my colleague, he, frankly, had no say in the matter.

    After the Exec Team approved my proposal (I had it in writing for them), it was presented and approved by the entire church council at their next meeting. So by the time I was 5-6 months pregnant, all of these questions were answered.

    It worked very, very well. Twice. Everyone was happy. And when I did return to work, I was ready, not resentful, and they were glad to have me back. My colleague, yes, had a heavier load, but with built in assistance, he too managed just fine, as we had intentionally pared down some of our programs and/or trained lay persons to help. Win-win. It can be done.

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  11. I almost could have written RevHoney's response--it's virtually the same as what we did! It was kindof interesting though to find out who actually read the newsletter based on whether or not they knew I was pregnant. :)

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  12. I love Caela's story! How sweet.

    I told a couple key leaders privately, and then a week later, I shared the news during the joys and concerns time. They were SO excited, and the collective gasp/shout/applause/etc was fun to behold.

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  13. Congratulations! Enjoy the moment.

    Because I was a solo pastor, I made sure things were put in my Terms of Call before I became pregnant. Fortunately our Presbytery was working on guidelines at the time so I used that as an excuse to get them in there (3 months paid leave).

    I announced it during the opening announcements along with an explanation that the leadership and I would be forthcoming on how everything was going to be handled.

    I think in this situation where there may be far less angst over how things are going to get done, things can be handled either via the newsletter alone or with an announcement in church.

    I would caution to be gentle with the announcement in church, so many have hurt surrounding childbearing issues.

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  14. When I was serving as associate at a large church, one of the other associate pastors announced his wife's pregnancy at the end of a worship service by putting the sonogram picture up on the screens and telling everyone they were expecting a boy. The senior pastor, with his mic on, looked up at the picture on the screen and said, "I don't see it..."

    I would simply recommend that you work with your senior pastor on the best way to announce publicly -- love the idea of during prayer time though I agree that it needs to be framed carefully for those who are struggling with pregnancy issues. I also suggest you provide your hr committee with policies used by other churches or your denominational body so they don't feel like they have to reinvent the wheel and risk legal challenges.

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  15. Congratulations and many happy blessings!!!

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  16. What a happy occasion! I think the place and timing are of course of your choosing. During both of my pregnancies our church had a prayer list for "ongoing needs" which included cancer treatment, nursing homes and "rays of hope" which included pregnancies. One week our name and the project month for the due date was added. Some people knew immediately (I think that they are the kind of people who lie in wait for the copier to spit them out.) Others found out when I announced to my team that would not be on duty for an 8 week period.

    As far as maternity leave goes, YES get it in writing!!!! We had precious little in writing and I had to haggle for everything. That kind of stress is not needed

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  17. I will second all the "getting in writing" posts. I have seen unbelievable things happen, yes, even in churches over the years.

    One thing I have often told patients is to wait as long as you can to tell those you word with/for. Six months can be a long time if everyone is wondering how your maternity leave will affect them. Especially if this is your first pregnancy you may be able to wait until the middle of your second trimester (20 weeks or so) before you tell everyone.

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  18. I'm coming at this WAY late, having been out of town, and with a pretty different perspective, which may or may not be useful here.

    I have struggled with infertility for four years, with loss along the way, so my own heart goes toward those for whom your pregnancy announcement may be hard to hear. For that reason, and because I think it distracts from prayer to turn it into an announcement, I would have a very hard time with the pastor's pregnancy being 'announced' as part of a prayer. That would feel like a slap in the face to me, to be honest. I think it would derail the prayer, and turn the focus to much to you.

    I certainly don't mean offense to those who did handle it that way. This is very reflective of my own experience.

    But - congratulations! Best wishes to you. And yes - definitely nail down the maternity leave ASAP.

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