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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - Have You Got the Time Edition

Today's question is pretty straight-forward:

I'm in the process of applying for CPE for next summer. I met the director of the program and he has all but assured me that I will be among his trainees. An added bonus - it will be the LAST set of credits for my M.Div. (Let's get this party started!!! WHOOO HOOOOO!!!)

I've also been asked to consider leading a contemporary service at a little church that has an influx of folks who want more than the hymnal. It would be a 6 hour a week job (paid for 4 - I'm figuring planning, encouraging, practicing and sharing the preaching.) I'm excited about the opportunity. The service would be on Saturday evenings.

HOWEVER - I am a little concerned about taking on anything besides CPE since it will be a full unit in about 12 weeks. Have any advice for me? I'd like to stay married and relatively sane.

Thanks! :)

Sue who blogs at writes:
Well, first of all, congratulations on being so close to the end of your program!!!!

Those 12 week intensive CPE units are very taxing on mind, body and especially spirit. I did two of them. The first one I started while I was still working in my first career as a lab technologist. I worked CPE Mon - Fri and the lab on the weekends. After 4 weeks, I thought I would either lose my mind or drop the course, but thankfully, my retirement from the lab came just in time. After that, CPE took up ALL of the rest of that summer. I had young children then and always felt torn between my *shudder* verbatims, my clinical time, my time with the boys and of course, my husband. There were a lot of things to juggle at one time. I was not sorry to see the 12 weeks come to an end - either time.

I'm not in your situation, so I feel a bit presumptuous making any comments about this, but honestly, a 6 hour job in which you are being paid for 4 hours is setting you up for a really unhealthy pattern of ministry. If the job is 4 hours - they get 4 hours of work. Period. The double standard around ministry time is simply unacceptable in 2009. Maybe it was "expected" that the minister always did more time than they were paid for in the past, but that was then, and this is now. I would encourage you to think long and hard about those two "volunteer" hours and what they could turn into a few years down the road.

I've been there. I was there for far too long - in that place where a 40 hour week suddenly turns into a regular pattern of 60 hour weeks until it's crash and burn time. Please don't let that happen to you. It's up to our generation of ministry personnel to end the "old ways" that weren't healthy for ministers or for their families. It's up to us to insist upon balance and fairness in our vocation, so that we don't have to sacrifice our personal lives and relationships to be in the ministry that God is calling us to fulfil.

Peace to you,

And Earthchick who blogs at agrees...
I think you are wise to be hesitant to say yes to taking on additional ministry beyond CPE. In my experience, CPE actually takes more out of you than just the hours involved in the actual on-site ministry. I found CPE to be far more intense and taxing than anything else I did during seminary. It is more than just the hours you put in on-site (which is plenty - especially if you are on-call) - it is the emotional and spiritual self-examination that really takes sustained energy and commitment. Some CPE programs advise against taking on additional duties (such as classes or other ministry positions) during the course of the CPE.

It is also hard for me to believe that the ministry opportunity you are being offered would really only be 6 hours a week, especially if it involves sharing in the preaching!

My advice would be to let yourself focus on just one thing - CPE - and give it the energy and focus it deserves. You will have plenty of time after seminary to take on other ministries, but (assuming you go into full-time professional ministry) you will likely not have the chance again to pour yourself into an experience like CPE.


Your comments are welcomed and encouraged; please use the comment function at the close of this post to share your perspective and experiences.

May your Thanksgiving celebrations be filled with joy, with gratitude, and with those you love, and may you live in God's amazing grace+


  1. I served a church part time (10 hours a week) while also doing CPE. At the church I was the youth director and worship leader, with occasional preaching and pastoral care. (I was also preparing to move out of the country AND my mom had stage 4 breast cancer during this take my feelings with that context in mind!)

    All 8 months (two units) was a nightmare. Being on call and also being in worship was extremely difficult. I was so tired and weary and emotionally exhausted that pastoral care was almost impossible. Being with families whose children had just died made being a youth director a few hours later extremely difficult. There was little sleeping, little reading, little self-care. I ate hospital food, I talked with hospital people, I wrote verbatims...there was no time or energy left for anything else. I only had to preach twice while that was going on, and I don't have any idea how I pulled that off.

    All that to say: however you decide to do it, DEFINITELY let 4 hours be 4 hours, have really good boundaries, and set up your self-care regimen (including EXERCISE!!!) now--you won't be able to set that up while you're in the midst of it all, and this way when you slip a little, you'll still have something as opposed to the nothing I went in with. Also, now's a good time for a therapist. They can be invaluable during that CPE experience, as you'll have a confidential place to share with someone more experienced than your peers.

    My two-and-a-half cents.

  2. It sounds so do-able, and tempting...but I did one of those 12-week units in a hospital, without any other responsibilities, and I still felt like a zombie at the end of it.

  3. I did CPE summer before last. I had no other duties for class or ministry except I did pulpit supply 5 of the 10 weeks -- 4 weeks in a row, the others scattered. I didn't have any pastoral care requirements and my CPE did not have on-call hours outside our normal hours (we did rotate during the day who had to answer beeper, but in this area, if it was a late night emergency, it was 80%+ RC priest).

    For me, going home and doing sermon prep was enough of a change from the hospital that I welcomed it. I'm an introvert, so heads down desk time time was a relief after the intense interpersonal interactions.

  4. I'm with part. I did a 12 week intensive, and then a year long residency, both hospital settings. I found preaching (supply preaching, cuz I was NOT making money at the hospital) life giving- the chance to see that there is life outside the hospital and death, the chance to look and ponder on the Word without having to do it for a funeral for a patient, the chance to be remindede that pastoring is not exclusively chaplaincy.......that said, I was married and had a wonderful husband who cooked me breakfast wehn I got home after oncalls and listened to me when I cried about all the death.....I would wonder about your oncall schedule, and how much sleep you need/can be functional on. Supply preaching worked because I could pick my weekends to preach...and when just to go home and crash.....I dont know if I could do a regular gig, but I do know people who can and have....

  5. I can only share my experience. You will pray and discern what will work for you.
    My CPE was to have been a 12 month extended unit; however the supervisor resigned his position 3 months into the unit. I am mother of two, was still taking 'regular' seminary course load and working 10 hours week. When the new supervisor asked us to re-commit to finishing CPE in 6 months (half the original expectation), I was frantic. (This new agreement would increase weekly hours from 7 to 17!!!)
    After much prayer and discussion with my spouse, I re-committed and was then told to quit my job. I did quit my job and my remaining CPE ended up to be an amazingly good experience.
    Blessings on your CPE!

  6. I am with Sue, don't work what you are not paid to do.
    It does sit up a pattern and it is hard to break

  7. Sounds like it depends on the CPE. Mine summer before last involved being on call every 6 days, which usually meant all night (so we were in the hospital from 8am one day through noon the next) but occasionally all day Saturday or Sunday instead. In any case, another weekly committment would have been out of the question. It usually took a full day (back at work after a half day off) to recover from the overnights. My hat is off to anyone who survived more.

    I loved CPE and am seriously considering a residency next year; I'd encourage you to give it your all and not let yourself be distracted by unrelated work.


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