Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ministerial whining?

Good morning God,
It has been seriously suggested to me that I rethink my vocation, that I have misunderstood what ministry is and that I should look to leaving the Church if all I want to do is whine about my working conditions. It has also been implied that I am taking a pop at the Connexional team, that I am out to slur them and make mischief or worse at their expense..

What on earth could I have done to have blotted my copybook so thoroughly?

Oh, yes,, that's right, I have dared to suggest that the Church considers practicing what it preaches, and updates the working conditions for circuit ministers as laid out in CPD so that they are a better reflection of its theology of grace.

Perhaps I should have been prepared for it God, but I have been astonished by some of the responses I have received over the last week. In amongst the many replies recognising the need for the Church to have a debate about current working conditions, there have been a small but significant minority who have decided that anyone who wants a change in their 'terms and conditions' must somehow be less of a minister...

To those who say ministers are not employees -
Hurrah... I too believe in the Covenant relationship and do not want to be an employee. The expectations of the Covenant vis-a-vis our working conditions are already spelt out in CPD - updating them will not suddenly make us employees.

To those who say ministry is who we are, not what we do -
Agreed again.. but let's not lie and say that ministers don't need or enjoy our days off or holidays like everyone else! Updating the conditions in CPD will not make us LESS ministerial by encouraging us to have a more realistic work-life balance!

To those who think I'm having a pop at the Connexional team..
The fact that ministers who work at Methodist Church House or outside of circuit ministry usually have contracts which stipulate a 5 day working week is cause for thanksgiving not ridicule - surely!
To make mention of this is not some subtle or perverse way of saying that I think the Connexional Team dont work hard enough.
To ask for the same notional working conditions for circuit ministers is simply to point out and ask for an extension of existing GOOD PRACTICE.

To those who think I have lost my vocation...
Asking for a change in working conditions does not mean that I am only interested in putting my material interests before those of my flock.  As someone who has been involved in the training and theological education of many of our ministers, I'm just not prepared to ignore the fact that too many ministers are falling sick and leaving the Church because they cannot live up to the increasing demands of some circuits based on current expectations.(not my own circuit I hasten to add!)
A small change in CPD could make a big change in how some people feel about their ability to minister. To watch over one another in love is part of our shared ministry.

In 'What is a Presbyter' we are told that

A presbyter is a ‘whole' person, interconnected with others through family, friendship or other close relationships
A presbyter ensures that his or her family and personal commitments are not neglected

The same is true of Deacons..

To ask that CPD is updated so that this is implicit in our working conditions is not whining - its practicing what we preach.
Isn't it?


  1. I hope my comment seems connected; I think it is in my own mind!

    A friend of mine is doing a PhD study on "nurse burn-out". Whilst this is a huge over-simplification, the short findings are that nursing evolves a lot of emotional giving which is not normally recognized by most health-care settings. The short answer to the solution isn't actually less work or more time off but rather recognizing that emotional giving is part of the nurse's job and that emotional giving is costly and then for the organization to say "Well done for having had an emotionally difficult month and for working hard throughout it; we appreciate you."

    If one thinks that this is namby-pamby, consider that it takes over six months for an ICU nurse to be fully training and the majority of trained ICU nurses don't last more than a year after training.

    For me, what the 35-hour a week stipulation does is set a benchmark by which ministers can at least say to themselves "my 60 hour week this week means I've worked hard". The minister's job can seem vague to many people, including the minister themself. We want our minister to be some kind of magical combination of Really Effective CEO who whips the congregation into shape and gets lots of tasks done as well as Ever-Available Wise Parent cum Caring, Doting adult child.

    I think that at least part of clergy burn-out is caused by whatever the church's equivalent is of the hospital not recognizing that the work is emotional and not saying "Well done for having had an exceptionally taxing and hard working month."

    Theology college became much more bearable for me when I stopped feeling guilty that I couldn't "take time out for myself" when the college had planned a 60-hour week for us. I decided that instead of feeling guilty for not "taking time for myself", I was simply going to set my shoulder to it and pat myself on the back every week for having gotten through another week.

    If the church can somehow say "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" occasionally I reckon that there would be less burn-out without any reduction of hours worked.

  2. I'm not sure that anyone is looking for a pat on the back, but I do think that expectations need to change. Expectations from some presbyters themsleves that they have to be THE one to fix it and expectations from the membership that the minister is needed for everything.
    Surely its about acknowledging that we all have a part to play in the purposes of God but we can't do everything. Nor does God expect us to. Perhaps what we all need to learn is the art of prioritising!
    I'm sorry you have had some painful comments about your sense of call - what is it that gives those of us in the church the right to judge other people. Isn't it just being downright rude!
    After our meeting today our District group is going to look further at your draft memorial.
    Thank you for challenging us

  3. Angie,

    I am fully with you on this one.

    I also fully support a recognition that many in our Connexional Team are also overloaded and working more hours than is healthy.

    To anyone that has been taught by you ideas that you

    - need to rethink your vocation
    - would whine
    - attack the Church (through the Connexional Team or any other way)

    are all totally preposterous.

    Instead three things about you and Methodism stand out for me from my experience of you as lecturer & director of studles:

    1. your hard stare while sternly pointing out that as ministerial students we were formally under the discipline of the Methodist Church and that we had better start taking that seriously right now and for the rest of our ministry. We were in a bar at the time and I remember Anglicans coming up afterwards and saying "wow it is a big deal being a Methodist Minister isn't it"

    2. Your response when you realised the level of Methodist studies on our course. To roll up your sleeves, add another job to your long list and get on and put it right without any complaint.

    3. The light in your eyes at the end of our course when you described how the Methodist people care most that their ministers love them and that if they know we love them they will support us and respond whatever our other failings.

    Those of us fortunate enough to have been taught by you know that you passionately serve the Lord and that you have the kingdom and the Methodist people at the heart of all you do and say.

    Please keep at it.