I've just started a 1/3 time position as a rural pastor in a town about 20 miles away. This congregation has been without a settled pastor for a few years, and it's clear from many of my initial conversations that they need some reassurance that their new pastor is, indeed, "here for them." They're also very respectful of the fact that I, as a 1/3 time bivocational pastor, CAN'T be there for them 24/7. (The church--and deacons especially--have done some good, hard work around this issue, and they have already taken on all the visitation duties.)
I've been trying to sort out ways to announce my genuine availability AND clarify my professional boundaries. For instance, I only plan to keep office hours one day a week, but we're moving the pastor's office out of its current upstairs back-hall location and setting up a ground-floor office with clear sight lines and full disability access. My office hours will also be posted/published clearly.
I'm toying with the idea of getting vanity plates ("rev"something) so that, when my car is parked there, it sends another clear signal that the pastor is in. (I've seen other pastors do similar things, either with special parking spaces or plates.) Matriarchs, please advise me: is this pure foolishness that will make me and my vehicle a target for any unpleasantness, or is it sensible after all?
What further advice do you have regarding the part-time pastor's delicate dance between reassurance of availability and clear boundary-setting?
Thanks in advance for your guidance, cautions, insights, and wisdom!
And here are our eloquent responses!!!
Dear Rev. Something-
If you can afford the vanity plates, I say go for it! A former colleague has a set that date back to his days as a mission developer. It eliminated some of his anonymity but it also helped people see that he was present in a variety of places.
My guess is that if you live only twenty miles from your congregation, you may already know a lot about rural life. However, if you aren't familiar with life on a farm, ask some questions. Get a tour or two. I've never met a farmer who wasn't eager to show off their milking parlor or tell you about the cost of their combine. Your interest in their life's work will help them to see your commitment to the community.
Is there a local coffee shop or diner where the locals go to have their mid-morning coffee or Sunday lunch? Is high school basketball a big deal in your area? Where do folks go for fun on a Friday night? Make a point of being at one or more public places every so often. You have to eat anyway and who doesn't want to have fun on a Friday night?
Last thing, and I know this is really obvious, but if there is an emergency, make every effort to respond. If you can't be with them, do what you can to communicate your concern and provide them with care. One of the saddest stories I have ever heard was of a part-time pastor who would not visit a dying parishioner because she was on her "stay-cation." Healthy boundaries are important but there are times when is is simply not appropriate to say "no."
Best of luck!
Further wisdom --
You have already made some of the changes I would have made. And I am so glad that you have been thinking about how to signal your availability. It is so difficult both in small towns and especially when you are p-t.
Be faithful to your Office Hours. They will depend on them. Is there someone in the parish who will function as your secretary? Mine did the bulletin for Sunday and was the local contact person if there was anything going on in the parish. I checked with her everyday. This way you do not have to field every call that comes in, but are free to focus on the immediate needs of your people. Perhaps the deacons can do this.
I love the vanity plate idea. It will help; however, it won't take long for the whole town to know what car you drive and whether you are in town or not. Small towns consider you their pastor even if they do not attend your church. If you go to the bank or the post office, you will be known and people will know if you are in town the minute you cross the village limits. And make friends with the other clergy in town if possible.
My tradition wears clergy collars. Wearing it in small towns was very helpful. Since I lived there on the corner of N-S and E-W Main St, it was the way that I could signal when I was on duty and when I was off. If that is not your practice, would a particular cross worn on duty mark you? If nothing else, it will remind YOU of when you are on and when you are off.
I am excited for you. This is one of the greatest ministries in the Church. The possibility to build Christian community in small towns is one of greatest gifts God gives in my opinion. Have fun with it. It sounds as though your congregation is excited to have you come and they will treat you with great respect as they know that you care about them. How you are planning to do that is right on the mark. Contact me if you need more help.
SOO true that the whole town will soon know what you drive (and will take note approvingly if you wave whenever you meet another vehicle, if your small town is like every other small town I've ever known!)
And a third take on the question:
I don't think a "Rev" plate will cause any unpleasantness and it's not foolishness, if you want to get one. I also think you won't need that identifier in a rural setting. Your car will be known, trust me! And that's not a bad thing.
I have not been a part-time pastor but boundaries are boundaries in every pastorate.
My advice: Publish a little blurb in each worship bulletin and in each newsletter stating your availability. I always say "typical office hours" because you know how that is! On the church answering machine, after "leave a message," it says "If the nature of your call is urgent, please call the pastor at (cell phone number)." I also put something similar in the newsletter and add: "If it is urgent to you, then it's urgent." I've had more problems with people who didn't want to "bother" me with a hospitalization or death than I have had with people calling for something that could wait.
When you get "called out" for extra things -- meetings, emergencies, etc., -- take extra time off when you want or need to.
Run your plan by a few people from your search committee and/or the church leader person. You will surely tweak this along the way, as you see what works -- and what doesn't! -- for you and your congregation.
Many blessings in this new ministry setting!
Sharon at Tidings of Comfort and Joy
I've little to add other than hearty endorsement of the excellent advice offered here--go where the people are, whether that's coffee shop or curling rink or garage sales...
What do YOU think? We await your comments. -- and your questions. Questions should be addressed to askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.
Great thanks to earthchick for looking after Ask the Matriarch next week--this Matriarch will be "on the boat" and out of touch temporarily!!!