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Should clergy have Christmas day off?

0d0c2ffc39e1eb4d1735715c507fac62Angela Tilby, Canon Emeritus of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, managed to upset just about everyone with her recent column on Christmas ‘family-olatry’ in the Church Times.

Christmas’s falling on a Sunday this year is bound to be awash with family services. I have heard of clergy cancelling the regular eight o’clock, on the grounds that they should be with their families at the start of Christmas Day, and anyone wanting to come to church should surely want to come to a lively Christmas family service rather than BCP Holy Communion…

We should not buy into family-olatry, but be actively seeking those who might be alienated by family jollities (especially in church) but still long to hear the good news of Christ’s birth.

My first observation is that Tilby is incredibly unwise, as a retired, unmarried woman without children, to criticise the attitudes of young, married clergy with children. It was once observed that ‘those with the simplest solutions are usually furthest from the problem’ and Tilby’s solution is saturated with that kind of simplicity. But it is fascinating to see how one, apparently small, issue can open up so many others.


The first is generational, and in this regard Tilby sits close to Theresa May whom she cites. Many older churchgoers and clergy assume that coming to faith is about doing one’s duty, and therefore being ordained simply means doing one’s duty par excellence. It is hard to recognise how culturally conditioned this kind of expectation is. James Lawrence explores this in his very helpful Grove Leadership booklet Engaging Gen Y: Leading Well Across the Generations. Half-way through the booklet, he includes a table which sums up different motivations and expectations of the different generations who might be present in a congregation:

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If all Tilby is doing in her piece is complaining that ‘the younger generation aren’t as good as me’ I am not sure what this achieves. I was amused to meet a member of Trent Vineyard yesterday, who said he might join us at St Nic’s on Christmas Day ‘because we don’t have a service. It takes about 100 people to organise a Sunday service, and our leaders want to give people a day off.’ It would be interesting to reflect on what would happen in many churches if we rediscovered the idea of Sunday as a day of rest.


But Tilby also locates the issue within questions of clergy power and autonomy. It is just one aspect of young ordinands and curates wanting to determine the shape of their ministry on their own terms, rather than accepting how it is and doing what they are told. I experienced this when I first moved to Salisbury Diocese, having completed my ordination training and a good way through my PhD, because I wanted to marry Maggie who was already a partner in a GP practice. ‘You can’t be ordained unless you are deployable‘ intoned the Archdeacon—meaning that the bishop, and the bishop alone, would decide where I would go, regardless of any other considerations. Tilby characterises the response this location of power in the bishop to a contrary location of power in the individual ordinand or clergy person—but rather than this binary tug of war, perhaps we need to rethink the way that power and decisions work.

There were some good and thoughtful responses in the following week’s letters, questioning some of Tilby’s assumptions. Joanne Grenfell observed:

Sacrifice is good, and clergy families do plenty of it. But sacrifice is only part of Christian witness, which is also about wholeness and abundant joy. Neglecting your family for the sake of an exhausting Christmas diary isn’t good for anyone; nor is it, I believe, what God demands.

And Becky Allright (who is training at St Barnabas Theological Centre) makes a key point about clergy as models:

In a world where work for most people is God and families eat together on average, once a week, surely clergy should be modelling a better way to live. Like Theresa May, I am the daughter of clergy. Unlike Mrs May’s father, it seems, my mother helped my siblings and me to understand that Christmas was a time to rejoice and celebrate, as Jesus had finally arrived. I knew she wanted to be with us to do that, and she worked hard in the face of much criticism to achieve that sense for her parishioners too.

A fresh-faced ordinand, I signed up to be a slave for Christ, not a slave to Common Worship.

This raises the question: to what extent are clergy models, that is, just like members of the congregation, only ‘more so’—and to what extent are clergy set apart to enable something to happen in the congregation that is distinct from them? I don’t ask this from a theological perspective—I wonder how we might justify the kind of clericalism which says that clergy (alone) must spend Christmas Day visiting the flock—but from an institutional and organisational one. Those ‘set apart’ for ministry are going to have different demands put upon them in order to allow a particular pattern of life for members of the congregation.


One response to the ‘model’ question is offered on the Clergy Spouse Support blog, commenting on Tilby. In reaction to an approach to ministry that says clergy marriages must find their place in the wider context of ordination, the response seems to be to reverse the order: ordination must find its place in and under the more primary call to marriage. I understand this reaction, but I am not convinced about it, not least because, for the first years of our marriage we only had every other Christmas Day together, since Maggie was the GP on call. Why is ordination less important than other vocations? And what then might we say to those who are not married—do we have an equally strong sense of the vocation to friendship? Surely a better model is to locate both marriage and ordination within the wider category of God’s call, within which there needs to be negotiation between conflicting demands. And if we are offering a model, that should neither be one of workaholic neglect of family, nor retreating into the bunker of nuclear family, but the kind of engaged and open relational structures that we aim to model at other times of ministry (don’t we?).

I was intrigued by the presentation of the demands of marriage and family life in the latest Church of England video featuring Kate Bottley. (Was there more than a hint of Vicar of Dibley about it?). I don’t think it was an accurate portrayal of actual Bottley home life—but the picture was of Kate as busy vicar, mother and wife, trying to juggle ministry, parenting and cooking the Christmas dinner. I wonder how often we are presented with male clergy also struggling with continued demands of domestic life alongside ministry demands? There seems to be some asymmetry here.


Perhaps the final question raised by Angela Tilby is why we are so busy at Christmas—where these demands are coming from? There is no doubt that the Christmas season has become the busiest of the year, in part because commercial Christmas requires that the separation of Advent preparation is doubled up with Christmas celebration by pulling the latter forwards to overlap with the former. The Church year has things rather better organised by creating a season of celebration; is there a chance we could be truer to that, and so relieve the pressure points? That in turn raises the dynamic of demand versus intent: to what extent are we responding to (unrealistic?) demands and expectations from our communities, rather than focussing on what is actually important and effective? This is an easier question to address in urban contexts where there is less sense of traditional expectation, and hard in rural areas where relationship-building is key. But it sobering to reflect that more people come to Church at Christmas—yet fewer people come to faith than at any other time of year.

So, thanks for asking the question Angela—but I think I might look elsewhere for answers.


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50 Responses to Should clergy have Christmas day off?

  1. Emlyn Williams December 23, 2016 at 9:32 am #

    ‘Fewer people come to faith than at any other time of year ‘. Interesting. How do we know? Just asking!

    • Ian Paul December 23, 2016 at 10:24 am #

      It was mentioned to me by a member of my missional community/church group. But I’ve seen a couple of other observations along the same lines. If anyone could pin down any research, that would be interesting. Blog post on this subject planned…

    • Ian Paul December 23, 2016 at 11:56 am #

      Actually Emlyn I think I do have an answer. When in the parish in Poole I did track our attendance patterns. It was noticeable that our growth took place principally in the change from June/July to September. I don’t remember noticing any increase from Nov/Dec to Jan/Feb. I think this analysis could easily be done in parishes, and might be interesting to do nationally.

      • Rachel Phillips December 23, 2016 at 2:49 pm #

        My ‘Christmas is not just for Christmas’research (which you were polite enough to cite this time last year 🙂 ) chimes with your comment here (which made my antennae leap to attention). In my pool of 500 people, it seemed that those who were frequent churchgoers had a much ‘better’ understanding of the Christian meaning of Christmas than those who attend only at Christmas time; this seemed to suggest that the people with ‘better’ understanding (i.e. closer to what Church believes is the meaning) had that better understanding because they were learning throughout the year, whilst those coming only at Christmas were not hearing the gospel/a call to faith at Christmas services as clearly as the Church might like to think. Which could indicate that fewer people are likely to come to faith on the strength of a Christmas service alone than through sustained teaching and discipleship throughout the year.

        • Ian Paul December 23, 2016 at 3:36 pm #

          Rachel, thanks for that observation; I had forgotten that key consequence of your observations, and interesting that it connects with other evidence.

          (Typo corrected).

          I know what my Christmas Day blog post will be about!

  2. Fr Damian Feeney December 23, 2016 at 9:36 am #

    Thank you, as ever, for this, Ian. One factual comment – is Angela Tilby retired? I’m not sure.

    • Ian Paul December 23, 2016 at 10:20 am #

      Damian, thanks. I did not think so…but when I checked her title, she is ‘Emeritus Canon’ so I inferred ‘retired’ from that. Am I mistaken?

  3. Rich Johnson December 23, 2016 at 9:47 am #

    Good stuff (as always) – thanks!

    It’s not just clergy families that find they competing demands to hold in tension. It’s precisely because I see so many of our church family trying to juggle so much that we’ve deliberately kept our service programme light before and over Christmas.

    We’ve found that doing a few really well and making sure they’re as inclusive to all ages, lifestages and situations as possible, has created some space for people to connect with family, friends and neighbours. It’s in this space that I will see our congregation serving at our Foodbank today, inviting neighbours and friends from school etc etc into their homes or families having some time together in between competing shifts at work etc.

    • Ian Paul December 23, 2016 at 11:57 am #

      Thanks, Rich, that’s an interesting pattern.

  4. Isabelle Hamley December 23, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    A couple of other problems with Tilby’s article: her dismissal of all-age worship as symptomatic of family-olatry; I think this is typical of some of the attitudes of our churches and a refusal to engage with different spiritualities. A consumerist attitude to church which says, I will only worship in ways that suit me when it suits me…

    In addition, there is something disturbing about the assumption that clergy have to do everything and be there for everyone… Being a supportive and inclusive community isn’t just the task of the clergy but of the whole church being brought into maturity in Christ. At a time when clergy are run off their feet, and doing some of the stuff only clergy can do, why not encourage congregation members, who do not have to run a zillion services, to take up the mantle of hospitality?

    And finally… We all know that Christmas can be difficult. Of course it is. Just like Mothering Sunday and other feasts. But many of us, as clergy, work very hard at enabling different emotions to be expressed. I know many who run Blue Christmas services; many of us make a point of visiting everyone we perceive as vulnerable or lonely before Christmas day. On Christmas itself, I dare say that the midnight service, which happens on Christmas day (!) is not targeted at those who want noisy, happy worship. And finally, isn’t there a sense in which the right place for the people of God to be, on Christmas morning, is together, rather than segregated in strands? I expect children to be there for the communion prayer on Christmas day – and participate in communion even though it can be wordy, solemn and a bit long for them. Why not expect adults, whoever they are, to participate with worship the children can more readily access? After all, it is the time when God made himself a child…

    • Ian Paul December 23, 2016 at 10:22 am #

      Ah, but when he was a child ‘no crying he makes’….!

      There is some irony in your observation of Angela’s comment as consumerist…but I think you are right!

  5. Kevin Lewis December 23, 2016 at 11:27 am #

    Thanks for this Ian – I think one of the conundrums of the clergy is that there appears to be a choice whether to ‘overwork’, be driven by ‘duty’ or expectations of duty; or whether to be a ‘family’ person. In many professions there isn’t the choice, as you cite GPs as an example. So, if we choose family, we by default ‘unchoose’ the other, and can get shot down for it. When actually clergy life is chocked full of choosing to put ‘the church’ before family, which actually has greater implications for the non-ordained clergy spouse especially for those with children. The phone calls, strangers at the door, expectations to be at all services, that children should be at all services and be well-behaved… my so was the only child at the Christmas fayre all day, at the community carol singing, and numerous other events…

    Perhaps the response to Angela Tilbury is that the (usually) older congregations at the cancelled 8ams should be more generous, wiser, and more engaged with the wider church family for that one day. And perhaps buy the vicar’s wife/husband & kids a little gift for their long-suffering patience :-0

  6. Andrew December 23, 2016 at 11:39 am #

    ‘…Tilby is incredibly unwise, as a retired, unmarried woman without children, to criticise the attitudes of young, married clergy with children. It was once observed that ‘those with the simplest solutions are usually furthest from the problem’….’.

    Interesting that you make this point, Ian. I wonder if you would apply the same logic in the sexuality debate? Should heterosexual commentators such as yourself exercise a degree of reticence, recognising that they are ‘further’ from the problem than gay and lesbian Christians, who must live our the pastoral implications of the theology being discussed? Does it make sense, for instance, for the Bishops’ working group on sexuality to be comprised entirely of heterosexually-married clergy?

    Sorry to divert the discussion onto this topic, but it does seem an obvious question given your remarks about Angela Tilby.

    • Ian Paul December 23, 2016 at 12:08 pm #

      Thanks Andrew…but I am not clear what the parallel is.

      Angela is here specifically criticising people for their approach to something with which she has not had to wrestle. I think that is not really wise.

      On sexuality, the question of the nature of sexual unions and God’s blessing is one that affects us all—so, for example, the legal definition of my marriage has been changed by the ‘equal marriage’ Act of 2014.

      A closer parallel would be for me to comment on how same-sex attracted people—or for that matter anyone who is single—might manage the challenges of celibacy. So I don’t presume to do so, and leave that to friends like Wes Hill and Kate Wharton.

  7. BG December 23, 2016 at 12:26 pm #

    Not that this needs to be said, but the same issue arises in other churches. I Have just retired after 34 years in ministry in one of the disestablished churches (in Scotland). This year I will have my first Christmas in pew rather than in harness. I always enjoyed the Christmas Day service since I made it a time for family/children by involving the children, which always pleased the parents. But I am so looking forward to not being responsible for finding ‘something to say’ for the umpteenth time!

    Will I miss it, however? Will I fail to repress the thought (as a spectator/pew participant) that I could have done it better? We’ll see.

    But I still think here’s no better time to sing the wonderful songs about Him being born “this happy morning” in a stable because there was room at the inn… etc. than on the morning of Christmas Day, December 25, even though there are those who would say in response, “Well actually if you read Psephizo on that…”

    Happy Christmas, Ian, and thank you for all the thought provoking you do.

  8. Vincent Whitworth December 23, 2016 at 1:01 pm #

    Great blog Ian. I would add that in my own personal context; members of my own congregations have checked that I am spending time with my family at Christmas and have actively encouraged me to make sure I have time for my family. I think if we preach ‘the priesthood of all believers’ and that every area of our lives – not just church but family, work and ministry is part of our ministry – then our congregations have an expectation that we as church leaders model that in our own ministry and that our ministry within our own families and other contexts are just as important as our ministry within the church.

    • Ian Paul December 23, 2016 at 3:37 pm #

      That’s really good to hear.

  9. Wyn Beynon December 23, 2016 at 1:22 pm #

    I know Angela a bit as she was my Vicar when I worshipped at St Benet’s. She a first class Parish Priest and I usually enjoy her column and was hugely kind to me. I wasn’t entirely sure I quite understood what we was saying in this particular piece, and it certainly wasn’t her best writing, but I didn’t feel particularly got at myself. That is despite the fact that at lunch on Christmas Day it’ll be 16 family round the table and I won’t be answering the phone. In a previous parish I had a 5 bar gate which I deliberately shut on Christmas day when I got back – the only time in the year I closed it. And no, spouse and children are not to sacrificed on the altars of our ministry. au contraire we are enjoyed to be exemplars of family life! But. I was more surprised by the reactions which were well crafted, intelligent, thoughtful and passionate. And, well, just a bit too much. She was not that aggressive. She was, I think, stretching after wondering what the difference between a priestly ministry of the episcopal Churches, in which yes, we are enslaved’ to the liturgy actually, because that’s where the doctrine is… and leadership ministry style of the ‘”presbyterian churches” where we have a managerial role. The two forms are incompatible, and will be the real cause of the collapse of the CofE. I can understand the validity of the presbyterian style, but it’s not what God has called me to. I’m a big fan of Angela’s but no, this wasn’t her best writing!

    • Ian Paul December 23, 2016 at 3:19 pm #

      That’s interesting, Wyn—thanks.

  10. Steve Carter December 23, 2016 at 1:53 pm #

    Very thought-provoking as always. As an unmarried lay person (and in another denomination to boot!) I won’t presume to comment on how married Anglican clergy choose to balance their church and domestic responsibilities at Christmas; I can see how challenging a task that must be. But I do have some sympathy with the view that there should (ideally) not be an exclusive menu of ‘family’ worship at Christmas, or even on Christmas Day. It’s been a frustration to me for many years that so often the Christmas message is corseted liturgically within child-friendly services that can not only distract attention from it (at least for those of us who aren’t used to children running riot!) but also diminish its depth and power. It’s sad if those of us who struggle to find the incarnate Christ in such contexts are given no opportunity to reflect together on the nativity in a quieter and more adult setting, whatever good reasons there may be for cancelling particular services on Christmas Day.

    • Ian Paul December 23, 2016 at 3:23 pm #

      Thanks Steve. One of my personal bugbears is the idea that ‘all-age’ worship focusses on children—which by definition means it is not for all ages.

      • Richard Woods December 23, 2016 at 6:49 pm #

        If the Eucharist is not all-age worship, what is it?

        • Ian Paul December 23, 2016 at 8:15 pm #

          The Eucharist is frequently not at all accessible to many people not only of different ages but of different educational abilities. The language register for most Anglican services is postgraduate.

          • Richard Woods December 24, 2016 at 2:05 pm #

            The problem then is with the language, and the presentation, not the Eucharist. An act of worship that at its heart has easily understood actions in which all have a part and basic concepts: taking, giving thanks, and sharing food and drink, is easily understood by all at some level – even though ‘understanding’ is not the purpose, taking part is.
            Certainly more so than many presentations I have seen which mostly consisted of a passive ‘audience’ being talked at or performed at.

  11. Pat Hawkins December 23, 2016 at 2:30 pm #

    There are some good points here, as I think there were in Angela Tilby’s article, but it is getting a bit precious. What about all the others obliged to work over Christmas, the NHS, emergency services, not to mention some of the most poorly paid in our society, those working in retail.

    • Becky Allright December 23, 2016 at 3:48 pm #

      Thanks for this Ian, very helpful, my husband is a carer and working this chrismas written a response here
      https://inspiredinyork.wordpress.com/

    • Don Benson December 23, 2016 at 4:07 pm #

      Well said, Pat. I was brought up in a CofE vicarage; we all (I had 2 sisters) mucked in with church activities and I remember no resentment. We gained at least as much as we gave and Christmas, in particular, was busy but it was a wonderful joyous time. On Christmas day I would play the organ for ‘Christians awake..’ when my dad took the 8.00am Communion service and then we’d all be there for Morning Prayer at 11.00am. Then back at home for the rest of the day often with visitors, who would otherwise be alone to, share the fun. It honestly was all great and I suspect, a lot better than Christmas for many families where parents have to do a shift all day or for people who endure a solitary time for any number of unavoidable reasons. Count your blessings; a vicarage Christmas may (should?) be the best there is!

  12. Sebastian Hyatt December 23, 2016 at 2:33 pm #

    I don’t think Pope St John Paul took Christmas Day off.

    On his last Good Friday he appeared with no voice box, exhausted, wearing a red stole with his back to the camara as he was on Oxygen, praying and yes, pastoring. It was a profound image and moved me deeply – as most of the Christian world.

    But then his motto was ‘Totus Tuus’

  13. Matthew Caminer December 23, 2016 at 2:37 pm #

    I think there are two points I would throw in. One, on Kate B’s video (who wrote the script I wonder?) No, no, no…. clergy do NOT always have to say yes, and need to learn that no is sometimes the better answer…. and a point certainly missed by Angela Tilby and I didn’t pick up in your otherwise excellent piece, that she is using one apocryphal story and another irrelevant anecdote to paint a picture of wholesale unprofessionalism, at a time when most clergy, and by extension their families, are on the verge of total exhaustion precisely because they are so utterly committed.

    • Ian Paul December 23, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

      Thanks Matthew. I couldn’t quite make up my mind about the video. I think the final point is good…but I worried that, like a lot of this ‘accessible’ material, it becomes quite humanist and excludes the dimension of the transcendent.

      But Kate does a good job on the ‘visibility’ front…!

  14. Sebastian Hyatt December 23, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

    The preciousness of all this makes one laugh or fume.

    As I write, two companies of my infantry battalion have returned to Iraq. They won’t be seeing their families for six months. Last year they were recalled on Christmas Eve for twelve days for flood relief and rescued people in Cumbria. This year, others are peace keeping in Cyprus and other places, and some are on standby to man the buses.

    The Sandhurst motto is ‘Selfless Commitment’ and the motto of the regiment ‘Difficulties Be Damned’.

    • Rhona Knight December 23, 2016 at 2:56 pm #

      Praying for you and your men. Having been a GP in an army town and now a curate in a town where there are many service personnel I can still only begin to appreciate the cost paid by members of the services and their families – and not just at Christmas.

      • James Pitkin December 23, 2016 at 5:47 pm #

        Now a rural vicar, I was previously an engineer in the RAF. In my job as Vicar it feels as though I have more time with my family at Christmas than I did whilst in the Forces. Most parishioners seem to value having a family in the Vicarage and are generally keen to leave us alone! It will be the newly engaged couples ringing on Boxing Day to book a wedding that will be most disruptive!

  15. Rhona Knight December 23, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

    How many hours does the average clergy person work on Christmas Day ? Do any of them get time off after Christmas to compensate for the busyness in the lead up to Christmas?

    How does this compare with restaurant workers, publicans, those working in the media, those in retail? And lets not forget about the NHS and emergency services.

    What might a wider perspective bring to this?

    And what of the joy of celebrating Jesus birth in worship? Of rejoicing in the light that shines in the darkness together as the body of Christ – being with the family of the church ?

  16. Sebastian Hyatt December 23, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

    Thank you Rhona for both your comments. My experience of selfless ministry has been quite different. haven’t had time to analyse both articles yet, but humbly offer the following.

    The vicar of Collaton St Mary, Devonshire would visit hotels siging carols on Christmas Eve. This was followed by a large service in a care home where he was a founder and on the management committee. He would then say Midnight Mass, often late as he was busy driving up and down the road giving people lifts to church. He then had three packed services the next day, starting at 0800. He loved all of it. A priest to the centre of his being who loved people, and they loved him. He never despised folk religion and would remark that it was lovely to see people – and have them in church for whatever reason. He kept open house, was burgled many times but would laugh saying “as long as they leave me my bed”.

    He was 94 at the time. Made of tungsten, he had won the MC for conspicuous gallantry at Passchendaele.

  17. Sebastian Hyatt December 23, 2016 at 3:08 pm #

    The priest aforementioned once collapsed with a minor heart problem during the morning service. He discharged himself from hospital after a few hours in order to officiate at evensong. Arriving at the vicarage the doors of the ambulance flew open to his exclamations “darlings, I’m back!”

    Warned after his second heart attack that the next would kill him he laughed “Good. Then I’ll get to heaven quicker”.

    He outlived the doctor by a considerable margin. Probably far too kind to comment on generational expectations, but clearly part of the pre-traditional group with steel for nerves.

    Sadly Generation Y – and most certainly Generation Snowflake – lacking in the main that stubbornness and robustness, are unlikely to live until 94.

    • Ian Paul December 23, 2016 at 3:21 pm #

      Is this really offering a pattern of healthy sustainable ministry…?

      • Sebastian Hyatt December 23, 2016 at 8:00 pm #

        It is a model of sanctity, perhaps, and it easy to use socio-speak to sneer.

        This is just one example of an outstanding priest and pastor born out of the trenches – like Tubby Clayton, Woodbine Willy, and others. They loved and treasured by their people and their memories live on, in the minds of those still alive.

        I don’t think such giants would understand a comment like ‘ a pattern of healthy sustainable ministry’ as it smacks too much of the armchair judge, rather than the experience of those who had their vocations tried and tested in the mud and blood of Flanders. Neither would Paul, Peter, Stephen, Iraeneus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, understand it. .

        The Rev Sydney Stevens MC was one example of selfless commitment. That he could still be incumbent at 94, and be described by the Bishop of Crediton as ‘the best priest in the diocese’ shows that is was ‘sustainable’. I don’t think many of us could touch that.

        As a pattern,this particular cleric so impressed me as an eight year old from a non-church family, that I could think of no nobler a calling. I can only hope that as an Army chaplain – co-incidentally to his old regiment I am worthy of his fine and long-lasting example.
        .

  18. Revd. Steve Robinson December 23, 2016 at 5:24 pm #

    Ian,

    A very challenging reflection – even for those of us who are Ministers in other denominations and who are especially tempted to put on extra stuff at Christmas.

    I’d sound one word of caution. Taking your point about GP’s, don’t overlook the fact that there are lots of people who work at Christmas many of whom are “invisible” and not the usual suspects. [Try being a Farm Labourer as I once was – Christmas was 3 hours 11 am to 2pm). The real issue for me is that I don’t get caught up in anything that a) takes me away from the real story and which b) affects my family in any way that wouldn’t be expected of others.

  19. Clive December 23, 2016 at 7:56 pm #

    I am bemused by this.

    I am a lay person put under a lot of pressure to work by the business all the time. This is normal. So lay people do work.

    As a Reader I was in charge of a Church plant. The services were not just for me, they were for the people in that area. I was helping them build their church. So when we talk about Christmas we are actually talking about joining in the worship of and with others. The idea of taking Christmas day off for personal reasons was not any questions because I was worshipping God with others on Christmas day.

  20. Deborah Salmon December 23, 2016 at 11:37 pm #

    I think I would say here is that do children of clergy have a say in this? Our children have had a dad as a vicar for nearly 17 years now ( most of when they were growing up). We have been careful not to impose church or that expectation on them that somehow they take a back seat to the needs of the church. After all their first thought on being born was not Ah there is a vicar of the CofE but there is my dad. We belong to a big parish and so before xmas we have already done school nativity services, special needs services and numerous church services amounting usually between 15 and twenty services depending. In that run up ( and as a very busy minister in general) they have had to do without dad so I do not begrudge them wanting their dad for one special day when it feels like church and parish have him for the major part. Very often on xmas day clergy are still not concentrating on family because they are so tired.I I do not want them (my kids) to resent god or the church in the long run and so their needs have to take precedent. We have a 10am service and it last 30 mins and that is all. I am afraid my kids needs and wants come before church and always will. I am sure God isnt going to fall off his throne if we take xmas day off and spend it with loved ones.My husband was told by his Bishop at his ordination that his family came first and his work second! So if the Bishop said it ……:)

  21. Paul Seymour December 24, 2016 at 1:21 am #

    I have two churches and the thought of the 8am after one crib service two first masses of Christmas and then to follow the 8am two more masses is really too much to ask. I cancelled the 8am because of two reasons the first being my family but as important is the second one energy.

    A service with 7 people is a tough call when the other services will often be up to 100 adults, forgive my lack of dedication.

    My long suffering wife and children will want me to be awake at Christmas dinner! Although I do remember when being an associate minister in a church when the incumbent told me I would be working to only 3:30pm from 7:30am (he on the other hand without children was only to be at two events) he really didn’t appreciate the comment which was effectively ” sod off”

    • Ian Paul December 24, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

      ‘Masses’? I thought you were an Anglican…!

  22. A Vicarage Vox December 24, 2016 at 8:03 am #

    A first! I don’t think I’ve ever commented on a blog. But I’ve been fascinated by the post and by the comments. Thank you.

    For myself, I’m a clergy spouse, and my spouse was a clergy child. So we come at this with a variety of experiences – and an awareness that different families handle things in different ways.

    For me, being part of numerous (it will be five this year) Christmas services with my husband is a joy. I love the services and the chance to worship at Christmas, love having the chance to see parishioners and visitors, and I think that parishioners appreciate the fact that my husband and I are together, sharing the services with them and with each other. Sometimes our family circumstances have made that impossible, as they do for many. On those occasions, he’s done the services, and I’ve taken care of the family obligations. If people are unhappy about that, so be it: balancing acts never please everyone. But I would not be comfortable – at all – with getting in the way of his obligations to his churches at Christmas, unless there were a significant crisis. I feel that it matters hugely that he is present to offer worship that speaks to the core of what Christmas is spiritually. And in the UK, we’re fortunate to have Boxing Day – so it’s quite simple to have Christmas Day as a day focused on worship and Boxing Day as the day for Christmas dinner, visiting, etc.

    One of the things that I do think this debate reflects is the tendency I noted during his training to treat “family” and “church” vocations as entirely distinct. We were repeatedly told at theological college that the vocation was the ordinand’s, and that the spouse didn’t need to get involved at all. I found this troubling at the time. I understand that it’s a reaction against the idea that the vicar’s spouse is the unpaid curate and was done to protect those whose spouses didn’t fit established patterns or didn’t have a particular faith. But I’d have appreciated a chance to explore the idea of a vocation which encompasses both partners. How that vocation works out in practice will vary according to each person’s gifts and callings. But the sense that we are together serving each other and the wider family and serving Christ and those we’re called to serve in the church is really helpful for us. And it would have been great to explore this more fully during training (and after … provision for reflection about clergy spouses’ vocations in the church is distinctly lacking).

    • Ian Paul December 24, 2016 at 10:29 am #

      Thanks so much for a fascinating reflection—and welcome to the blog world! (It’s not really that scary!)

      I agree with you about the tension between seeing vocation as one for the family and not seeing the spouse as a free curate (though isn’t it curious that it only ever seems to happen for wives and not for husbands…?!). When I was training ordinands we would certainly have wanted spouse and family involved as much as they wished to, and encouraged families to work through these issues of vocation. We had a lively spouses group (which my spouse helped to lead…!) and encouraged conversation about this.

  23. Ian H December 25, 2016 at 8:07 pm #

    Perhaps before we can ask about ‘being off’ might we be try to answer what ‘being on’ means?

  24. RevDave December 25, 2016 at 9:00 pm #

    IMHO a lot of the criticism of over-busy Vicars comes from senior clergy who aren’t responsible for multiple parishes. However, some of them may be on the Diocesan Mission and Pastoral Committees that create these multi parish benefices – the conscientious incumbents of which are somehow supposed to lead without becoming over-busy!

  25. Simon Ponsonby December 26, 2016 at 10:11 am #

    This has been a fascinating read – I am a minister on a large team and my senior colleague gave me Christmas off! So we went away on holiday to Cornwall 6 days before Christmas. But my young adult sons and wife felt rather uncomfortable being away, despite lovely cottage at the coast. So we came home after 5 days, for Christmas. What a delight to be at Midnight communion. I loved it. And my only regret – not to be sharing the Word or celebrating the Eucharist. I’m a priest – ministering at Christmas is a privilege and wonder – I don’t want Christmas off again.

  26. Will Jones December 27, 2016 at 9:58 am #

    Fascinating discussion. I’ve been going back and forth on what I think about the matter. Instinctively, despite being ‘gen x’ I see it in terms of duty, and have appreciated the comparisons with other professions such as medical and military. My brother is a doctor and my wife is a vicar and this sense of duty seems right. On the other hand as a father I can understand the importance of protecting family life and modelling a healthy sustainable lifestyle which is characterised by joy and glorifies God. In the end I think duty in ministry needs to win out, and family responsibilities be located within that framework. But I can certainly see the need for family considerations to help shape our concept of what duty in ministry requires.

  27. Banania January 4, 2017 at 12:47 am #

    I knew a priest who explained to his congregation that there would be no service on Easter Day because it was his wedding anniversary.
    (Can’t you organize a blog that costs nothing? Then you would not need donations.)

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