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:
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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