I just celebrated my 2nd anniversary of ordination and am gearing up for my third year as a solo pastor of a small rural church with no staff. I am ELCA and my letter of call says I get 4 weeks of vacation plus 2 weeks of continuing ed. Before I started I vowed to always take all my vacation and continuing ed time but the truth is I have failed in both regards.
When I look at it there are four causes for this
- 1) It is so hard to figure out when I can get away, liturgical year constraints (we have thanksgiving eve, midweek advent & lent services) & our public school has no non religious holiday related breaks (although we have pulled them out anytime we have managed to get away),
- 2) leaving is a BIG PAIN, to replace myself for a week or even a Sunday takes a lot of planning, coordination, and amazing array of people, partly because they don't have money for pulpit supply so I need to put together a service that can be lay lead including sermon or sermon replacement and we don't have any tradition of worship assistants beyond reading the lessons.
- 3) Where to go? It's not that we have a shortage of friends and family to visit, its just none of them live in our state or even our time zone and we just don't time to drive or the money to fly to see them as much as I wish we did.
- 4) I don't really know where to look for continuing ed beyond my seminary and it seems they only schedule interesting things when I have a conflict plus it is a full day's drive away. (and when they might have to borrow from the bank to pay my salary it is hard to ask for the con ed money even though I know they owe it to me, it is in my letter of call).
So my question is how do you get away and have the vacation time you are owed and need to maintain sanity and energy for ministry? Also I am saving my pennies, wedding & funeral honorarium, and anything else I can to be able to visit my cousin stationed in Japan, we plan to make take at least 2 weeks for the trip, maybe more. How do you prepare a congregation for a longer trip?
Earthchick (who blogs at earthchicknits) jumped in on this one...
You obviously recognize the need for taking all your vacation and continuing ed. It sounds like you just need to make up your mind to actually do it and make it work. It also sounds like you will need to prepare your congregation for the fact that you are going to begin taking your full allotment of time.
To answer your issues as you laid them out:
- Yes, it is very hard to figure out when to be away, given the liturgical year restraints. I get 4 weeks of vacation as well, and I always take one of those right after Christmas and the other 3 sometime in the summer. Even in the summer, it sometimes seems hard to figure out when to be away - there is always something going on that I feel I should be at. But taking vacation is a nice big reminder to myself that I am not indispensable. (By the way, on the issue of being indispensable, I would highly recommend that you read The Contemplative Pastor, by Eugene Peterson.)
- Leaving definitely is a big pain in terms of planning logistics for while you are away. Your congregation really ought to be challenged to come up with money for pulpit supply - how on earth did they expect to abide by the terms of your call otherwise? Before my current call, I served a tiny rural church as the solo pastor (no other staff). The congregation still managed to come up with money for pulpit supply. Are there any seminaries nearby where you could find students looking for an opportunity to preach? That's what I did in my previous call (though the seminary was 3 hours away), and it was a wonderful chance for students to get some time in the pulpit and for the congregation to encourage them. If you absolutely cannot find a preacher, I still think it's worth all the effort of planning a lay-led service to be able to take your vacation.
- I'm not sure that I have anything to offer you on the question of where to go. Personally, I would find anywhere, even if it meant just going to the closest non-rural city to your town, just to get away. I also love staying home for vacations, but that might not be feasible in a small rural town where people would know you were still there. I live 800 miles from all my family and friends, which is why I take 3 of my vacation weeks all at once - so that I have the time to drive and go see them.
- Besides your seminary, check out retreat houses in your area. It doesn't have to be within your denomination or related to your seminary. My favorite continuing ed is going to a Benedictine convent about four hours from me. You can also check with your denominational office, as well as looking in places like The Christian Century. There really is no lack of fantastic continuing ed opportunities out there. If nothing else, just schedule some time away to do some reading and praying. Again, the congregation should be challenged to fund this portion of your terms of call.
Just one last thing, and I'm sorry if this sounds too pushy. You cannot make any more excuses about taking vacation and continuing ed, and you must not accept any excuses from the congregation. Time away is not optional. It is necessary for your own health and for the health of the congregation.
As did Muthuh+
Small parishes will fill your vacation time, continuing ed. time and even sleep-time if you let them. It isn’t because they are mean-spirited, it is just of the nature of small parishes to suck you into EVERYTHING in their lives. The greatest thing you can do for them is to teach them your boundaries.
I remember hearing a skit by Garrison Keillor about Pastor Enqvist wanting to go to a church meeting in FL during the winter and the congregation being upset because they were secretly envious. That skit has stuck in my mind over the years because in small churches often we have to deal with people who cannot look beyond their own small worlds. Part of the pastor’s job is to bring the outside IN. You are doing your congregation a great disservice if you do NOT take your vacations and con. ed. time. If you want to go skiing then plan your vacation so you can get snow time. If you want to sun on the beach, plan that time too.
It sounds like you think that perhaps you don’t deserve away time. That is ‘stinkin-thinkin’. Take your vacation because THEY need you to be rested, re-grounded in spirituality and connected with your own primary sources, or whatever.
First of all, set your time for vacation at whatever time you want to take vacation—not Christmas, Easter, or Lent. But at a time that is convenient to you. You must tell them when you are going to be gone and then ask the Council how they want to handle the absence. It is part of their job to provide for your vacation--they MUST build into their budget the cost of your vacation. In my little ELCA parish, there were those who loved to lead the service. I had 4 congregatonal deacons. If you haven’t trained someone to lead the service, you need to do that for the future. If there is no one, ask a deacon in another congregation with the permission of his/her pastor. I had the luxury of having a retired Episcopal priest in town.
It sounds as though you need to plan your vacation for your own sake too. If you need to be with your family for Thanksgiving, work out a shared service with another church in town and share with that other pastor by doing it the next year. Con. ed. can be done on line if you want, but it is much healthier to get out of town. If your own Synod doesn’t have such events, check the other denominations in your area. My synod was a part of a consortium of mainline denominations that held con. ed. events in a city 2 hrs away. It made for a nice day away and driving time which was quiet time to think things over.
In small parishes, especially if there is a manse or parsonage, there is a mentality that they can call on you at any time. If you want to just take some days at home, just let them know that you are not taking calls that week and hunker down and sleep, read and watch TV if you don’t want to go anywhere. Put the phone on the answering machine and don’t answer. I found this hard to do since I was often fulfilling my own ego needs by being important in their lives. I found getting out of town was healthy for them and for me.
You must teach them that you are deserving of your vacation time. But most of all, you have to BELIEVE that you are entitled to that vacation. We women are hard-wired in trying to take care of others. We can never do it all and we will always fail if we think that we can. Get clear that your vocation is to bring Christ to their lives, not take care of them. With their eyes on Christ, they will not expect YOU to be Jesus.
Great insights born out of years of experience! How about you? Have you found some creative ways to make the most of your vacation time...or developed the means by which preparing for time away and returning from it need not be so time-consuming? We'd all benefit from the conversation!
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May you live in God's amazing grace+
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