Should clergy count their days and hours?

A few days ago, Donald Allister, Bishop of Peterborough, wrote to his clergy and talked about self-management in relation to time keeping and time off. It has garnered some interesting reactions. This is the extract in question:

Clergy Care

In a number of dioceses, bishops have started instructing clergy to take two consecutive days off once a month, as well as a full day off in the other weeks. This is in addition to the normal annual leave allowance. I have been asked if I intend to do the same. My answer may seem a strange one, and I’m very happy to discuss or explain it, but it represents a firmly held position.

I have no intention of telling clergy how many days off to take, or how to configure their days off or their annual leave. To do so would make me a manager, and would make the clergy employees. (I am referring to parish clergy; chaplains and some diocesan staff are employees and come under different arrangements.) During my 26 years in parish ministry, and now 17 as archdeacon or bishop, I have rejoiced in the freedom we have to organise our own lives: to have lunch at home sometimes, to share in children’s bedtime or the school run or see children in a school play during the daytime, to go out for a walk or to the cinema or read a novel on a “working” day when I feel the need to do that. I have never counted my working hours in a week, or even my days of leave per year, and I have never felt the need to do so. I know that I work hard at my ministerial calling. I am a priest and bishop 24/7, and I am also a husband, father, brother, friend – and a person with my own needs – in the same way. (I tried to be a 24/7 son too, when my parents were still alive). I rejoice in holding these duties, joys, responsibilities and privileges together. I delight in our strange and somewhat unusual status, as neither employed nor self-employed, but “office holders”. I am perplexed and a little saddened when parish clergy want to be employed and line managed, or see their calling as in some way analogous to a job. To the parish clergy I would say, Give yourself wholly and joyfully to the various callings, responsibilities and privileges the Lord has laid on you; Look after yourself as well as others, taking the time you need for refreshment, recreation, and rest; Work hard, pray hard, love well, care for those in your charge including yourself.

I think there are at least four virtues in Donald’s approach here.

The first is that this is a long way from the kind of management speak that seems to be growing in the C of E, and which (from my conversations) it appears that quite a few clergy are beginning to resent. No mention here or targets, goals or commitments to growth.

Secondly, and related to that, this approach seems to be a genuine attempt to capture the sense of ‘office’ that describes what it means to be an ordained minister in the Church of England. This concept is under pressure both from bishops and other leaders who would like to have more control over their clergy, and from clergy who feel they need more protection from people like that! It came under some pressure in the last report on clergy stipends, Generosity and Sacrifice in 2001 (to which I made a small contribution). And it is repeatedly scrutinised whenever questions arise about management and control of numbers at a national level. It has been an embarrassment that clergy have not retired in the numbers anticipated, so that the growth of ordinands is filling a gap which has not quite materialised—the inability to manage that at a national level is related to the quirky nature of clergy as ‘office holders’ and not employees. And it is refreshing to read a bishop being positive about this reality.

Thirdly, it is also refreshing to read an honest account of the positive benefits of this practical situation. There is a strong tendency at the moment to commiserate with one another amongst clergy at the pressures we are under, and how hard done we are, and how difficult our situation. But the reality is that, spiritual blessings aside, there are many advantages and practical privileges enjoyed by the ordained, and it is good to recognise that without prejudice.

Fourthly, I think this is a delightfully personal communication, which is realistic about the personal realities of life, and in which ministry is not all consuming. There is a sense of undefended openness here, in which as a bishop Donald is offering with an open hand the pattern of his own experience. (No-one has commented on it that I know, but I was fascinated to see that the following paragraph talks of his own pattern of fasting and why that might also help others.)

Despite these positives, there were quite a number of negatives responses in an online discussion of this approach that I was a part of. Some disliked the laissez-faire approach, especially to taking holiday, since they felt it failed to acknowledge the struggles some clergy have in this area. Others wanted more guidance, whilst still others pointed out that, under Common Tenure (which replaced clergy freehold from 2011), the Statement of Particulars (SOP) which dioceses are legally obliged to provide to all stipendiary licensed clergy do actually offer some specific numbers in relation to holidays and days off:

You are entitled to an uninterrupted rest period of 24 hours in each period of seven days.

You are entitled to 36 days’ annual leave in each leave year.

SOPs usually specify the fact that retreats, conferences and study days should not count as annual leave, and note the freedom and lack of need to report leave that Donald refers to in his letter.

So are there reasons why we might need more guidance than the general principles to ‘give yourself joyfully’ and ‘look after yourself as well as others’? Once again, I would note four things.

To protect us from ourselves

A retired bishop once told me: ‘Half the clergy in my diocese were lazy; the other half were workaholics’. I see both these tendencies in different parts of the Church—and in fact I wonder if the temptations to laziness and workaholism are paradoxically present in all of us at different times. It is a challenge to generate healthy patterns and disciplines when you work independently (even if part of that time is working in a team), and having frameworks and guidelines can help with basic disciplines and offer accountability. This year I have been trying to write something on the gospel lectionary reading to support and encourage those who are preaching on a Sunday—and it has been interesting to see how many people leave their sermon preparation to Saturday evening! This might be a well-refined approach offering an optimal preparation moment—but I suspect it is more of a sign that, under the immediate pressures of parochial life, we struggle to be pro-active and disciplined in our use of time.

On the other hand, I have friends who are struggling with ill health and from patterns of exhaustion that have arisen because of overwork and insufficient patterns of rest. Ministry is a job without boundaries, and it demands a peculiar discipline to say ‘no’ to the needs of others for the sake of one’s own boundaries—in a context where, by definition, clergy have (hopefully) been selected because of their pastoral concern for others.

To protect us from others

One friends writes of a challenging time in curacy when, as a parent with small children, this person was told by the training incumbent that a 60 or 80 week was normal, without any regard of the needs of the family. In theological education, I once worked for someone who appeared to delight in never taking a day off (‘well, there’s just so much to do’) and privately scorned other faculty for not having a similar attitude.

There are still many places in the Church were there is a perverse pride in overworking, and I am sure that this unhealthy culture is one of the reasons why there has been a positive reception to the idea of a clergy covenant, which majors on the shared responsibility for enabling clergy to work with healthy patterns of discipline and self care.

For the sake of comparability with those in employment

I was on the station getting ready to catch a train to London for yet another meeting when I met a member of our congregation on the platform. He has quite a specialist skill, and to find appropriate employment he had previously been getting up at 5 am in order to drive to Birmingham each day. He had then been made redundant, and then found work in Leicester, which was a much easier commute. I was struck by how privileged clergy are, and how removed from these realities, by both the security they enjoy and the benefit of working based at home, whatever the challenges that might also present.

A while ago, I heard report of a vicar at an evening meeting, who apologised that the meeting did not have a proper agenda, because this person had fallen asleep in the afternoon and so had not had time to do the preparation. I suspect lay people attending the meeting after a long day at work, possibly with an early start, would not have been impressed! When I visit clergy friends in London, I am struck by the different attitude there to working hours and discipline compared with my local context—because church members in London work longer hours, and that shapes clergy attitudes. We might want to challenge the workaholism in our culture, but we cannot simply exempt ourselves from the pressures of those around us by taking advantage of the freedoms we enjoy.

For the sake of consistency

It might seem like a small point in comparison, but it seems to me that there is some significant virtue in clergy being more consistent from place to place and time to time in the way that they use their time. Comparisons can be odious, but it might be wise to avoid unhelpful comparison by our being consistent in our practice. There was a time when half the members of the Royal Society were clergy, since so many chose to prepare one sermon and service a week, and then use the rest of their time in scientific research. Those days are long gone!

There are insoluble paradoxes in the notions of ‘work’ and ‘rest’ in ministry. After all, just spending time with people in various ways is not ‘work’ in the way that most employment is work. And it always feels strange to consider Sunday worship as work when for most other people it is part of their ‘leisure’. The oddities here are perhaps the mirror of the oddities in thinking about clergy remuneration. And we need space and time if we are to reflect and be creative in our ministry.

I don’t want to let go of Donald Allister’s refreshing and engaging perspective when he says:

Give yourself wholly and joyfully to the various callings, responsibilities and privileges the Lord has laid on you; Look after yourself as well as others, taking the time you need for refreshment, recreation, and rest; Work hard, pray hard, love well, care for those in your charge including yourself.

It embodies something delightful about both the joys and responsibilities of ministry. But in practice I think we all need something added to this to say: ‘…and this is a healthy pattern which will enable you to do this’. A full 24 hours off each week; time spent relaxing when the opportunity comes; 36 days (that is six full weeks!) a year annual leave. A good rule of thumb for weekly working is to be committed for 14 sessions out of the 21 there are in the week (morning, afternoon, evening for each of the seven days).

So the question is: what has worked well for you, or others you have observed?

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37 thoughts on “Should clergy count their days and hours?”

  1. I was quite shocked to see that this has gone viral as it first came to me as a clergy letter from my Bishop, I am a Vicar in Peterborough Diocese.

    I think it’s context is important; this is not general advice to clergy but from a Bishop to his ( in this case) clergy with whom he takes care to have a good ongoing pastoral relationship where some of the issues you raise will be discussed in other ways.

  2. At various times I’ve been involved in running support groups for clergy in the early stages of their first incumbency. Over-work was often an issue, especially in the first few months because they wanted to sort everything at once. A pattern to try out was often helpful.

    The biggest challenge was how to allow for interruptions to the pattern. Some became too rigid, while others seemed to have an emergency every week. So much of this is about personality….

  3. I was delighted to receive this message from Bishop Donald. It is a way of building up trust as partners in the gospel. At this particular stage in family life I’m very grateful for the flexibility that he commends. In the future I imagine my work patterns will change, and his approach allows me to adapt to the changing context of ministry. Static patterns do not allow for the organic nature of ministry.

    A couple of things spring to mind.

    1. Role models are important in all stages of clergy formation. One of the things that surprises me when I talk to ordinands and curates is that very few have role models, particularly in the area of work and rest. In the absence of good role models, I think bad role models fill the vacuum and/or we reach for stricter guidance to fill the gap that should be addressed in formation. It’s something to watch out for at any stage in ministry, and perhaps an issue for those moving into ministry from another type of work.

    2. Sabbath. I recently led two study groups on a biblical overview of Sabbath. Neither group found much direct teaching from the New Testament about patterns of work and rest for Christians (any help with that?) Instead we found lots about the attitudes we should bring to our work and rest and identity. Jesus resists giving a new framework for the Sabbath, but instead claims lordship over it and invites people to live out their work and their rest in relationship with him.

  4. I think that Ian makes a very important comment regarding the variety of approaches employed by Clergy in their attitude towards time and work. As a Team Rector, I’ve told my staff team (of 6) that I am not going to micro-manage their works time and holidays because a) it takes time which I need for other things, b) they are perfectly able to manage their time and c) I believe they take their vocations seriously (lay and ordained) enough to want to fulfil them. This has been very liberating because there have been times when everyone of us has needed to take time out for one personal reason or another and knowing they won’t “swing the lead” means I can just say “yes” in the knowledge they won’t abuse it. Yes, there has been a degree of negotiation and, yes, there have been the odd instance where additional ”clarification” has been needed. But this stems from good and healthy working relationships, mutual respect, understanding and care for each other, and each other’s families. That, I believe, is at the heart of what the Bishop is saying. I recognise I have been fortunate in the staff I have – but maybe I have been able to contribute to my own fortune.

  5. My husband is an Anglican priest. He did have 6 weeks annual leave in the UK but we now live in Australia where he has only 4. In my opinion the impact of losing these 2 weeks is huge and has caused his stress and tiredness levels to rise. I also think that clergy should have 2 days off a week not two. People in secular employment may work long days etc but most have 2 consecutive days off which makes a huge difference to quality of life. My husband’s day off usually consisted of taking my son to play football (until he could drive himself) and household chores. This doesn’t actually constitute a day of rest. Others can spread these family related activities over two days, which gives more time for rest. If we could live like Bishop Donald it would make life much easier as clergy could then take the time to rest as and when it is needed. However, it does require all clergy to be conscientious – and with the description of half of clergy being lazy (as stated above) that may be a bit too optimisitc. Thanks for the article. It is certainly an issue for many in the Anglican Church .

  6. Doing 14 sessions a week – on the basis of two a day – implies no day off. Is that what you meant to say or do you expect clergy to work three sessions a day twice a week?

    • No, what I said was, we should work 14 sessions out of the 21. That gives three sessions which are the day off, and four other sessions off.

      In other words, there should not be more than 2 days in a week where I work all three sessions. Plus there should be a day off.

      Does that make sense?

      • Yes, as you seem to be agreeing with my second suggestion. Thanks for the clarification. (As an SSM I don’t expect to be doing 14 sessions any week)

  7. I think (as a, now retired, once workaholic) that’s helpful. It’s conditional on clergy being honestly aware of what they are actually doing to fulfil the responsibilities that go with being ordained and the promises entailed. It still has some content of being “a job” as there are tasks to fulfill. I believe that most are aware and probably “over stretch” themselves. Less is sometimes more. My second incumbent never emphasised “rest” from the commandments…. rather the six days his curates should work…. Bank Holidays were ignored… Not helpful as mentoring or for health.

    I wonder if the same helpful advice is borne in mind regarding lay people? They often work 5 days and then spend lots of time handling church responsibilities. Because of this they don’t all get free weekends…. Are we encouraging those with major responsibilities not to fill up all their time “doing stuff for the church”?

  8. My – fairly unscientific – soundings suggest that by and large younger clergy are getting the message and are taking sufficient time off. This mainly as a result of clear direction from ‘above’ and so that extent Bishop Donald’s approach – and I agree that it is a delight – is not sufficient. I also wonder if for most church members the distance between the ideal represented by Bishop’s Donald’s vision and their daily grind is simply too great to cover without some guidelines to give, as you say, clarity and consistency.

    Lastly, but still on this theme, I wonder if the question of clergy pensions and retirement age has to be factored in to this debate. We cannot reasonably expect ministers to be working as hard as many of them do into their late 60’s. Either they will wear themselves out – literally – or they will slack off too much unless of course they happen to be serving in a situation better suited to their circumstances. A retirement age at the least aligned to the State Pension age and not the fairly arbitrary 68 would make more sense (though I realise that for younger clergy the dates are aligned)

  9. 4 truisms and 2 illustrations from my own (lay) experience:
    1a. Bishop Donald’s summary “Work hard, pray hard, love well, care for those in your charge including yourself” is a great one for *any* Christian believer.
    2a. Our vocation will normally include suffering.
    3a. People at the bottom of the economic pile generally get more suffering.
    4a. Other things being equal, an explicit call to Christian ministry is likely to be tougher than for “lay” Christians.
    2b. Two of the jobs I did in my twenties caused exhaustion-related illnesses, one of which has led to a minor long-term disability.
    4b. When I was between 40-55, and working for a bank in an administrative/technical role, I was committed for 11 or 12 sessions out of the 21 – Monday to Friday morning and afternoon, and 1 or 2 evenings / Saturday mornings. In my mid-fifties I went part-time and 11 or 12 out of 21 became about 9 out of 21. Working from home for 2 or 3 of those sessions a week was normally possible. Bible reading on the train. Gym at the office. Compared to Ian’s suggestion of 14 sessions per week – definitely the easier life!

  10. By virtue of the office there are inevitably weeks where you work above and beyond reasonable hours and weeks which are more relaxed. I believe time off is a personal discipline which takes into account the need to balance out those weeks.

    I think the benefit of ‘line management’ is for those who don’t have that discipline either way. If the one they manage is well disciplined then that part of the management will be made easy. For me supervision or line management is more essential for asking the questions of whether or not their output time is actually having a beneficial impact on the mission they serve. In our Pentecostal denomination I don’t think we have enough accountability for that purpose.

  11. Thanks as always for very helpful observations on a difficult topic. Contrary to +Donald’s letter (but not in opposition to the spirit of it), one of my personal disciplines is to keep a careful daily timesheet, and I encourage my team to do so also. I find this brings two main benefits:

    1. I recognise in myself the paradoxical tendency you mention to simultaneous laziness and overwork. The timesheet helps me to live in the tension between these two temptations. I aim for a working week of 50-60 hours on the basis that a person employed full time might work a five day 40-hour week, but we work a six day week (=48 hours). We are “compensated” for this by six full weeks off per year, which is more than most full time workers. Add to that the hours that a lay leader in my church will spend in church-related activities (study group, Sunday worship, finance / fabric / music practice / youth work, etc). So the time sheet gives me a sense at the end of each week whether I have got the overall number of hours about right.

    2. The timesheet also records roughly whether I am spending time visiting (pastoral or evangelistic), preparing for or attending meetings, prayer walking, doing correspondence, preparing sermons or other teaching, supervising staff, etc, etc. In the midst of the vast number of things we COULD do, I find it helpful at the end of the week to ask “what did I actually do?” The primary control on how I balance the various demands is actually in the way the diary is put together in advance, but this offers a way of checking, when so much pastoral and evangelistic work is actually responding to opportunities/needs.

    I think it’s important to add that I never beat myself up if I have a lighter week (under 40 hours), but nor do I beat myself up if I have a 70+ hour week. Romans 8:1. But over several weeks and months I can see patterns emerging which I may need to redress.

  12. As someone who worked for many years as a missionary, so called “living by faith”, (but shouldn’t all the righteous live by faith …?) this article beautifully expresses the dilemmas and pressures facing many christian workers.

    I feeel there are a number of issues that are inadequately addressed in so called christian employment in general, in which the time off issue is the tip of the iceberg.

    In what way should the ‘clergy’ laity divide function anyway?

    Should a church leader of some sort actually be doing ‘it’ all themselves?

    What about the Ephesians 4 leaders preparing people for works of service, ie mainly as facilitators and educators?

    What about the role of the ‘elder/overseer’ being a hands on day to day role supervising a lay ‘workforce’ rather than the more distant line manager approach.

    What about the “to one another” verses, roughly 35 of them I think, many of which we expect clergy/full timers to do for us (as with the living by faith idea, aaargh).

    Yet it seems to me the point of having full timers is availability if early Acts is to be believed, both for pryer/study AND meals on wheels (I love that they chose the most spiritual men to do this ‘menial’ role)?

    And how to integrate the OT view of priests/ministering which is obviously superceded on one level yet seems to continue to inspire our roles on another and is clearly refered to on a number of levels in the NT?

    I like that the OT includes wages, rotas, uniforms, health and safety regulations which both protects the ’employees’, the priests and levites from excessive demands and should, if applied properly, protect the population from extractive and dominance practices by the priesthood too. (I especially love that there is even a special sacrifice for if the high priest has sinned ie NO get out clause for clergy to get off scott free – here in France it’s only in the middle of the last century that a priest was not properly prosecuted for the obvious murder of his lover and mutilation of her newly born baby just because he was a priest!!)

    I could go on of course. I’m glad the debate is opening up. My jury is out on a lot of things but key seems to be that we really must talk about it, stop taking clergy in it’s widest sense for granted, stop some clergy taking congregations for a ride. Find appropriate levels of accountability, putting in place better checks and balances.

  13. Many thanks for another helpful and thought-provoking article, and comments since. I particularly echo John Bavington’s comments, and want to expand on the first one.

    In training I was apprehensive moving from 5 day to 6 day working, until someone suggested I could look at it as 5 days (like most salaried workers) plus a day volunteering (like many committed members of the church family). I was certainly often putting in 7+ hours a week to church and para-church organisations as a lay leader.

    But I then reflect that, I’m too often doing household chores on my ‘day off’: I may be avoiding ministry work, but not all of it is Sabbath rest.

    • ‘But I then reflect that, I’m too often doing household chores on my ‘day off”.

      Don’t you think that is true for many in your congregation? Who has a true Sabbath these days?

          • I think in the absence of NT instructions to the church Christians have overlaid a version of the fourth commandment onto Sunday. But the work of the kingdom is different from the work of Israel settled in the land and so we hear in the gospels Jesus redefining the Sabbath e.g. he says he and his father work on the Sabbath (John 5:17). My concern about importing the OT sabbath ethic is that it brings other implications about land use, jubilee, and seven year cycles. We see the beginning of a weekly pattern of corporate worship in the NT, but it doesn’t equate to the Sabbath. I would think Hebrews 4 would address this if there was a right way to do a Christian Sabbath, and Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 seems easy going so long as we find our rest in Christ.

        • Mark Scarlata, who teaches OT at St Mellitus, and also has church responsibilities on a Sunday, teaches about this. When he talked with LLMs on this (and other aspects of Exodus) a year or two ago, he described his sabbath, which is, appropriately, a Saturday. The phone and computer are off, and time is devoted to his young family.

          I suspect that he might well touch on this in this podcast (I confess I have not listened to it):

  14. ………. and then there are the working SSMs/NSMs who after an 8 hour day on average in their work place (often dealing with complex issues, clocking in, 6 monthly reviews etc, etc) start their ministry, writing sermons, lunch time funerals, Messy Church, church meetings, Sunday services , pastoral visits etc etc, some of whom have oversight of parishes and have other diocesan roles. Most working SSMs have 2 jobs. 3 Cheers for SSMs!

  15. As a soon to be Associate Vicar having just finished curacy I have found getting the balance of work/home life (for want of a better expression) the hardest thing about being an ordained minister. Ive been told it’s impossible to do what I’m doing (ie be a Mum and work full time for the church), have had colleagues who model 60+ hour working weeks and frankly the ‘to-do list’ its never finished. It only takes one funeral to come into an already busy schedule to throw off the next 3 weeks that have been carefully planned out. and I do try and work on the 14/21 model as well as keeping one afternoon a week free to put last minute things in to.

    I understand +Donald’s sentiment above and it’s actually fairly empowering to be told you can manage your own diary and we trust you to do it – my own boss tells me that too. However I think many of us would benefit from being instructed a bit more forcefully that not only is it ok, but I *want* you to take 2 days off together every now and then and not feel guilty about it. If everyone around you is modelling bonkers working patterns it doesn’t matter how many times you are told, you can take time when you want it, the reality is if no one else is doing it it takes quite a lot to be the one to say, well I’m going to lead by example, or actually I can’t get that thing done this week because there is no time (& by the way I’m taking an extra day off), or telling your PCC that you are leaving behind the undone report you said you’d do so you can go out with the family etc etc.

    And I *am* trying to lead by example (& I’ve just written a book about it, shameless plug) but it is really hard being the one to do so, and dare I say it even harder as a woman. So I for one would rather appreciate having a contract that said: you are entitled to take an extra day when you need it…

    • Thanks Jules. In response to your comment: ‘Ive been told it’s impossible to do what I’m doing (ie be a Mum and work full time for the church)’ isn’t it worth asking the question: isn’t it impossible to do two jobs, and why are we asking anyone to do it?

      Surely it is difficult to be the primary parent and continue in full time work? So why have we set up our culture to think this might be normal?

  16. Interesting assumption there Ian – I’m not the ‘primary’ parent – my husband and I share parenting and the house – he works full time too… However yes I think there is so much that could be said about working patterns and models of ministry in the CofE. PT curacies are hard to come by for example, job shares are few and far between and where they are you cannot officially share some, including an incumbents role – just as a few examples. That is probably part of a wider discussion about the parish system and how we deploy people too, but from a female perspective I know women are often pushed into Self Supporting roles if they have kids or might be thinking about it, or not given the opportunity to go for more ‘interesting’ roles…

    • Thanks. I am not sure I made any assumptions–in fact I made no assumptions about your other half! I don’t think *we* could have managed as parents both having full time jobs, so perhaps I need to rephrase the question: why in our culture do we assume that couples can parent with two full-time jobs? Why have we made that necessary?

      • I am inclined to think that the economy in general is geared to two people working. (Governments get more taxation that way) house prices progressively become more expensive as mortgages are largely based on two incomes and the increasing parity and emancipation of women with men in equal opportunities in work, has made this assumption necessary.

        • ‘increasing parity and emancipation of women with men in equal opportunities in work, has made this assumption necessary’ No, that is not the case. If women and men were pushing to parity, then men as often as women would take time off to parent, so you would not have both parents working.

          In our culture (rather than in individual decisions) the two things that appear to have led to this are a. Thatcher’s commodification of housing, and the failure to build more houses, including the ideological prohibition on Councils building homes, which has pushed prices up and b. the wider cultural narrative that paid work is the only measure of value.

          I cannot think of anything said by any Government in the last 30 years which puts actual value on parenting.

          • I don’t think I entirely agree with you Ian. I think the general economy has increasingly taken into account that women will work and have the opportunities to earn considerable amounts. I think the economy regards parenting as somewhat an afterthought (however it is done) . I agree with you that the disastrous sale of council houses in the Thatcher era put house prices up but the state we are in now is that the economy considers a working woman as an ‘economic unit’ more or less equivalent to that of a man and the economic system fully exploits that. I know very few people who have not had to have two household incomes in order to sustain a reasonable standard of living. In my own case then I am the sole breadwinner as my wife is partially disabled and I am fortunate enough to earn well above the national wage but its a tight fit sometimes. This added to the fact that I am a lay pastor and get paid nothing at all means that I sometimes work the equivalent of 6 1/2 days weeks with other (Baptist) church responsibilities. Fortunately my two children are grown up although I am still supporting one at university. I would loved to have had more time off to parent when they were younger but I always had the sense that the economy was against me and assumed I could co-parent with both of us working.

      • Ok maybe I read that into it, maybe it was your phrasing. But in reponse to above, I would say firstly:
        do we assume that in our culture? and if we do is that actually a problem? Many jobs cross over on hours so for example when I am working at weekends my husband is at home, and as you know ministry life is often flexible so we can make sure we are there for our kids in a way that often those in secular or less flexible jobs can’t.
        Secondly as others have noted, necessity for 2 full time salaries is often over financial needs, rising housing costs, cost of living etc. Certainly there are families I know, with lower incomes who have no choice but to both work, so we should be careful about how we phrase that sort of question I think. For some of us from more ‘middle class’ backgrounds we can assume the choices we have are the same for everyone.
        Indeed for us we don’t both ‘need’ to work full time but it’s what I feel called to – which is another element to any discussion involving ministry roles. I feel called to be wife, mum and Vicar, and not one more than any other, so the question of balance or rhythm or whatever you want to call it is a constant question for us. Would it be easier if there was more flexibility available in the sort role I might do, yes of course – would I do 4 days a week if that was an option? possibly. But it’s not an option really. Working less days in a stipendiary ministry role (which is where we started in this discussion!) might give more time in the week for family but might mean a change of housing or grater cost of housing for example or a move of location which would affect my kids as much if not more than us both working full time. And that’s assuming we could even find a part time role anyway, as I noted they are few and far between.
        Adding to that something posted in another comment – do we value family as a society? this is another whole question! it’s interesting that in big business, they have for some time been recognising the needs of workers with families, allowing flexible working, good mat and pat leave/pay, job shares etc. There seems to be a rising tide in business that recognises to get the best out of its workers they need to give them the bets for their families too. The church could learn a lot from this kind of attitude. From Working Families UK who recognise companies doing this well, Sarah Jackson OBE, Chief Executive of Working Families and chair of the judging panel said: “Our research shows that for nearly three quarters of parents, family is their number one priority. With 11 million working parents in the UK making up more than a third of the workforce, it’s initiatives like these that will help them balance work and family life and progress in their careers.”
        (from here:

        which takes me back to my first point that “employers” could be more directive and supportive in how they work with those with families and in the church frankly we should be the best at doing this and we’re often down there with the worst…

  17. I had an interesting conversation with a colleague about work/life balance and we decided the idea of finding a balance set up an unhelpful set of expectations. Balance implies something finely poised and easily upset, the see-saw of pressures that we all experience. Failing to steady the balance leads to disappointment and resentment. We then compensate too much and set up the problem again. We landed on the phrase work/life blend. I think this is nearer what +Donald is speaking about. A blend is something sustainable, honed over time, which unites our God-given roles rather than compartmentalises them. This might change our patterns of ministry and it would be important to talk about those changes with colleagues and the wider family of the church, so that there was a shared understanding of the impact of a sustainable ministry on the life of the church.

  18. This is fascinating.

    Practice here in Canada varies from diocese to diocese. In our Diocese of Edmonton beginning clergy get four weeks off. After ten years of ordination they get an additional week. We also get one week of study leave per year.

    I don’t know of a diocesan policy as to one or two days off per week. When I became the rector of my current parish nearly twenty years ago, I negotiated for having every Monday as my day off, along with an average of two Saturdays a month (some months I only get one Saturday off, others I get three). Also, usually (but not always) my Sunday duties end around 1 p.m., so it’s not unusual for me to be ‘off’ from 1 p.m. Sunday to 8.30 a.m. Tuesday. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays I often work morning, afternoon and evening. I think I average a forty hour week, but then, it’s often hard to know what’s work and what isn’t, as parish ministry is relational and relational work can often look to others very much like leisure!

    I have been in full time ministry for over forty years and when people ask me how I managed to pull that off I always reply ‘Don’t overwork’. Being a parish priest is a lot like being a parent – no matter how hard you work, there will always be more to do, so you may as well set sensible limits, get used to the idea that you’ll never really finish it, and go home while you still have something to give to the people you love.

    I also freely admit to my English colleagues that I don’t serve in an ‘established’ church and my life is far less likely than theirs to be dominated by funerals and weddings. I also don’t live in a rectory, I live in a house of my own and do my desk work in my church office; it’s hard to exaggerate the importance of this for my own mental health.

  19. I think expectations on clergy have changed over the last 50 years, so it is appropriate that we reconsider what is normal. I cannot speak for (semi-)urban contexts, as I was only a curate there, not an incumbent, but in the countryside it is normal to have responsibility for 4-10 parishes. If we attended everything happening in each of those parishes where a vicar was expected, alongside funerals, our weeks would be quite full before we even got to planning our own time. Add to that that as clergy move parishes on average every 6-10 years, for the first 1-2 years most of these events feel more like “our job” whereas once we have got to know people better, they merge gently into “our people”. Being asked to take a funeral of someone we don’t know on our “day off” is a very different prospect from having the privilege of taking the funeral of a long-time member of our community and personal friend when we were supposed to be relaxing. They might be equally exhausting, but we are more likely to begrudge the former.

    Secondly, I would like to know what is meant by “lazy”. In my experience there are clergy who work more hours than I think is healthy, and there are clergy who work fewer than I do. I appreciate there is a temptation to be both lazy and workaholic, but sometimes it is more a question of pace. I like to work in high-energy bursts followed by down time. Others might pace themselves better. On some days, my sermon preparation might be 4 hours focussed time after which I find it hard to concentrate, while in other weeks I might spend get a whole day to work on it, and spend 8 hours thinking, reflecting, praying and writing and be completely refreshed at the end of it. On a time sheet the latter looks like twice as much as the former, but the reality felt the opposite.

    That’s why I like the bishop’s approach, and think mentoring and reflection (“do I feel I am helping this congregation deepen their relationship with God, and am I engaging with people outside the community?” rather than time management is the healthier option.

  20. Thanks for a really thoughtful article, Ian. This takes me back to my theological college days, when, as a member of the student council I produced a paper which we forwarded to the governing body, pointing out that the number of hours the college required of us each week were considerably in excess of the European working time directive. The response we got was shocking – outright rejection, including comments such as ‘well, just wait until you get into parish ministry, then.’ So the model we were given was very much work until you drop and stop complaining.
    Many years on I am grateful for wiser models that I have learnt from, but it’s still a struggle. I did try a few years back to count up my hours to try and keep a lid on them, but the exercise proved fruitless and depressing. However, I currently work along a few guidelines that help me – for context, i am a vicar with no associate or retired clergy alongside me, no other employed staff in the parish, and a wife whose long struggle with ME has left her unable to do much by the way of housework.
    Rule 1 – If there is non-work stuff that needs doing urgently – be that washing the dishes or filling in a form for something – get on with it and don’t feel guilty that you should be doing ‘work’.
    Rule 2- Try to do something every day which uses your key gifts – so in my case, try to spend some time preparing Bible teaching, even if it’s only half an hour.
    Rule 3- If like me you struggle to ignore work, make sure that on your day off you get out of the parish.
    Rule 4- Do not try to do any work after 9pm, unless you are at a meeting which is running late.

  21. Glad to know of the current age of retirement … ranging from the impression one has of the last letter on the last day at work. 58 years to 60 and there’s 65 years to 70 …step-by-step, chins up, the middle age bulge and all … in the time that remains.


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