Working One Hour a Week (Part Three)

Previously, I wrote about serving as theologian in residence, and in providing and equipping for pastoral care. Today, I’d like to briefly write about Sabbath.

My intentional days off are Friday and Saturday. Because people do not work on Saturdays, they are sometimes the best time to meet or gather. Because the Holy Spirit will not be contained to particular hours for inspiration and transformation, sermons are sometimes written or edited or tossed out and restarted on Saturdays. Saturdays are a bonus, is what I think I’m trying to say. So my day of rest, my Sabbath, is Friday.

And I am strict with it. I answer my phone only for emergencies, I do not check or respond to e-mail. I do not work if I can help it–even if the sermon’s not done or a class is not prepped or if there’s a thousand things to do, and it’s for one simple reason:

There will always be more to do in ministry.

I know one person–one–who has suggested he’s ever just been done with his task list for the day. And he was an Associate Minister who later had his job expanded. Every other pastor I know can work eighty hours a week, every week, if they choose to. And plenty of them do. And I used to, and then I realized my boundaries were breachable, my rest was raucous, and I was not setting a good example.

God rests on the seventh day. Not for a few hours each day. Not half a day here and there. Not a month after nearly having a nervous breakdown. One day of rest, each week. The pyramids will still get built, the weeds will still be there to be pulled, the world will still run and devour everything we throw at it. We each can take a day.

(I recognize some folks cannot; they must work too much to scratch by. I want to be a better advocate for them, and lead people in serving their needs. Thus, Sabbath.)

Does taking a strong day off influence the congregation? Perhaps. Leading by example and not decree takes time; developing a rhythm, and then examining it in community, is a process.

Funerals in the Time of Corona

I received word on Monday that a nonagenarian in the congregation I serve had died. She was feisty, incredibly kind, and sharp as a tack, for almost a century. Moving forward, the family opted to have a memorial service at a funeral home, and then a graveside service today. It was the first funeral I’ve done since before the lockdowns and times of masking. Here’s some observations from today.

  1. It was strange, but it was not bad. Different. We still proclaimed the good news, we remembered and celebrated a life well-lived. We were all wearing masks, we were spread out in the chapel.
  2. It was okay to stream on Facebook Live. Ten people joined us on the livestream because they would not come to the service–and we were able to connect them anyhow.
  3. As there was no singing nor communion planned in the service, those hurdles did not have to be jumped.
  4. I shook hands because of reflex, and I sanitized my hands frequently. Kept my mask on if I was within ten feet of anyone. I did not feel exposed nor at risk. I hope I’m not wrong!

The Church can adapt, the Church can change, the Church can grow in these moments. We are called to faithful witness, not comfortable process.

“… give thanks for life…”

Working One Hour a Week (Part Two)

This is a continuation of the series, “Working One Hour a Week,” answering (at least for me) “What do pastors DO during the week anyway,” and you can find Part One right here.

Today, let’s talk about building relationships, particularly through pastoral care.

Pastoral care is important, an inescapable part of the life of ministry, and there’s something to be said about professionals who are trained, equipped and ready to walk alongside people in the best (think weddings!) and worst (think unexpected deaths!) moments of their lives. It is an honor and privilege to walk alongside folks, to sit in silence in hospital rooms, to trust the Holy Spirit will understand our sighs and muddled words, to invoke God’s presence in the rooms where God already is.

And it is something that cannot, should not, and ultimately, will not be done only by professional Christians.

First, it’s impossible–I can’t remember where I’d read it, but if the expectation is that one person will cover all pastoral concerns (hospital visitation, home calls, concerns sharing and keeping up to date), there might be enough time for that person to also prepare a sermon during the forty hour week, if the church is fewer than 80 active members. Might. So that means anything else–teaching, advocacy, community presence, innovative worship, name it–either has to happen on an ever-deepening deficit, or not at all.

The most simple solution, I think, is this: equip the congregation to do pastoral care, and start calling it congregational care. If we look to the witness of scripture, there’s not, in any community or mention through the entire New Testament, someone who has the task list and job description of a solo pastor in mainline Protestantism. One of the big draws of the church, in fact, was that the community was so connected and interwoven, everyone was caught. There were many as one, not one doing the work of many.

It takes a paradigm shift–the pastor may not come pray with you in the hospital! But an elder or trusted servant may! And God hears those prayers exactly the same way as the pastor’s. And some will be upset–but they’ll come around.

Working One Hour a Week (Part One)

I’ve been asked before, What is it you DO during the week, anyhow?

Pastors struggle with boundaries between working and not-working–I have met very few clergy who are willing to turn off their phones for a day, to not check church e-mail at least daily, who are always (even if low-key) planning and preparing. I am no exception to this rule, but I work very, very hard at becoming an exception.

That being said, in the time of Corona, there is far more blending in my life between what is church work/ministry, and what is time away. I have had to limit my use of Zoom, because it is draining and Zoom Fatigue is real. I have been intentional in setting one night a week–usually Tuesday–aside in order to not drown in meetings (and to have intentional dinner with B). And I’m loathe to answer texts, emails or calls on Fridays, though, I do, I do.

But that’s not the question asked in the beginning. What is it a minister DOES during the week, anyhow? (And I do not speak for all ministers, and I recognize plenty of ministry is not congregational, and plenty of ministry is not in solo pastorates. This is what I does, during the week, I guess.)

First and foremost: I serve as theologian in residence. At least, on my best days. I spend a lot of time praying, studying, preparing curriculum and crafting sermons. I’d say it is at least half my job, and it looks kind of easy, I guess. I research, I read commentaries, I take notes, I spend four hours trying to perfect a paragraph.

Do I count the time when I sit on the bench in my kitchen at three a.m., wondering if we could do 1 Corinthians in forty sermons? When on a Saturday I stop for three hours and re-write another draft because the Spirit so moves (and just refuses to operate only during office hours)? What to do with afternoons where I know I have to just stop and listen and breathe because I’m forcing a sermon and thus it’s a speech, a lesson, a presentation?

I get low on myself about writing–I’ve been wrestling with the fact that I’m just not going to have time, energy or the wherewithal to write fiction or plays like I used to–but I do write, every week. Thousands of words, researched and refined (on my best days). But that’s not all–but there are other posts, surely.

On Sabbath

I have just finished my first class for my Doctor of Ministry degree. I am part of the first class that’s in the hybrid model, and because of the COVID, we met entirely online this week. It was four hours of Zoom, with an hour of Zoom for chapel. I am Zoomed out. I am screened out! I need a break.

Fridays are my intentional days off, and I usually have this rhythm: get up early as normal, and do the regular routine until 8:30. Then–read. Do laundry. Go for a walk. Write. Prep DND games. Avoid screens until evening. Have a relaxed evening with Brian. Be prepared for whatever Saturday may bring.

I work hard to take a day off. I have struggled previously, to the detriment of myself and my ministry, in not checking e-mail, not answering calls (but checking voicemail if it is an emergency), not participating in life online because these boundaries have helped me emerge on Sundays (usually Saturdays, this job has weird hours) more refreshed, more refilled, more (God forbid!) rested.

I’ll be taking tomorrow off as much as I can. I waver on how much church work can be done on days off–sometimes, an e-mail must be replied to (with a simple “OK, let’s run with it,” even); sometimes, a text gets through. I hate to think the entire day is toast. If I spend two hours (timed) going over my sermons for tomorrow, is that work, or being present and purposeful and ready, knowing I’ll have two hours on Sunday to recoup?

Sometime I’ll write about resting in advance. Not the best practice, folks! But that day is not today. Today, I want to power down this computer and have a sustained break from Zoom, typing, this monitor and my study.

Quarterly Evaluations

One of my goals this year is to figure out where I am in regards to my call–to check in with myself, and to make sure things are level and loving. The practice I’m developing is Twenty Questions.

Note: I have done this once, in March (as it’s quarterly) and it was supremely helpful. It puts everything out there–and only I see it. Here are the questions (and never the answers!)–use them as/if you wish.

  1. Do you still have a sense of call?
  2. Are you paying the bills? (That is, is that which must be done in congregational life being accomplished before extraneous projects or visioning work outside the regular sphere of operation)
  3. What are your strengths?
  4. What are your areas of growth?
  5. Are you praying regularly?
  6. Are you studying regularly?
  7. Are you accessible?
  8. Are your boundaries strong?
  9. Have you met with your Pastoral Relations Committee (or Parish Relations, or Personnel)?
  10. Have you written a manuscript for every sermon? (This is a personal practice I continue, after a season of trying to preach extemporaneously)
  11. Are you collaborative and communal?
  12. Is your family happy and well-received at the church?
  13. What characteristics of the congregation would you like to see change?
  14. What characteristics of the congregation would you like to see continue?
  15. What are you most excited for?
  16. What are you most afraid of?
  17. What are you celebrating in the life of the congregation right now?
  18. What are you mourning in the life of the congregation right now?
  19. How are you practicing self-care?
  20. How are you an example of the faith?

These questions are rather open-ended on purpose. Do you practice this kind of self-evaluation? In part? In full? More so? Let me know!