Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thanks be to God for the rain...

Like many parts of the country, we have been soaked with rain for the past month or so, and though the last week has been dry, I woke up this morning to rain again.  I'm ready for the rain to be done, and the cold front that is coming through is not exactly a welcome visitor, but on this Saturday, I am thanking God for the rain.

We were supposed to take the youth to Shaker Village today (Mercer County day - free admission and free rides on the riverboat), but the rain has given us a great excuse to cancel the outing.  I don't think the ground needed any more rain, but I sure needed the break - and more accurately, the break from one work thing to work on another - my sermon for tomorrow.  I normally have my sermon finished before the weekend so that I can actually enjoy some Sabbath time, but this week has been a beast.  In fact, the last few weeks have been rather beastly.

Andy and I are usually quite good at guarding our days off (Friday and Saturday), but this is the 3rd week in the past four that have been 7 day work weeks for us.  Last week we finally had an entire day off on Friday, but even on Saturday Andy was working on his sermon.  Next week I will also have another 7 day work week thanks to a meeting in Louisville Friday and a called Presbytery meeting on Saturday. 

Yesterday was particularly taxing.  We had a surprise birthday party at the church in the afternoon for a member who has had to move to Louisville to an assisted care facility.  It was wonderful, and a great gift to be part of it, but it was nearly 3 hours of being "on."  We had just two hours between that and the next event, during which I decided to get the oil changed in one of our cars and discovered that one of our tires is close to blow-out - the tread is coming off.  Two weeks ago I had a flat tire on the other car, and so this just adds to the stress.  But I had to get back to the church before I could get it taken care of in order to be there for a fellowship dinner and Bingo night - another great event, but another 3 hours of being "on."  I could feel myself having a difficult time being truly engaged in conversations.  I was completely missing entire sentences of conversations, feeling very fragmented and distracted all at once.  My body and mind were both telling me that I needed a break.

I got home last night and was more aware than I have been in a long time of being completely emotionally tapped.  Even though it was our "day off," it was only really 6 hours of work, and I used to work 50-90 hours a week before Seminary, so what gives?  For one thing, it was 6 hours of very extroverted work, and this introvert was screaming for some quiet.  For another thing, it is coming in the midst of a sustained month or more of working too much without a real break.  Many pastors take vacation or some kind of time off soon after Easter.  All of the Lent, Holy Week, and Easter busy-ness requires some rest.  But we had nothing planned this year, and we've had a number of situations at the church that have demanded above and beyond pastoral care since Easter.

I was recently speaking with another minister about days off.  I said that we really try to preach and model Sabbath, but for some in the congregation who routinely work 7 days a week and all hours of the day (and pride themselves on it), it comes off sounding either lazy or luxurious (nice work if you can get it...).  He realized that a major difference between his current congregation and the former congregation he served is that there are many more professionals in the congregation - doctors, lawyers, and others who routinely put in 70 hours a week.  In his former church, when he was working 45 hours a week or so, he felt like he was on par with most of the congregation, but he now felt an unspoken pressure (probably both internal and external) to put in more time.  Complicating his situation, the church he currently serves has gone (in the past few decades) from being a multi-staff church down to him being the first solo pastor.  His predecessors were a clergy couple serving as co-pastors, each technically 3/4 time, but from what he hears, the wife probably worked time and a half, and the husband full time.

Of course, Andy and I are currently serving as co-pastors, technically each 3/4 time.  Each year we sign something with the Board of Pensions stating that we are both working under 35 hours a week.  In exchange, the church saves money on our medical coverage, avoids having to meet Presbytery compensation minimums for each of us.  Sometimes this works.  Sometimes, having that external boundary gives us a little more support in setting certain boundaries.  Internally, it allows me to give permission to myself to be more flexible with the schedule at certain times.  And yet...  we haven't been counting hours, and I don't even want to guess at what our weekly average has been over the past month or so.  It's not fair to us - we aren't getting appropriately compensated for the work we are putting in - and it's not fair to the church, or to the solo pastor who will follow us. 

It's hard to complain about a call that we helped to negotiate and that we accepted.  It's not as if the church can afford to pay us more but isn't.  It is a stretch for them to have us here, too.  And it is hard to "complain" about the work that we have been called to do, when it is a joy to be able to do it. 

And yet...  I'm tired.  I'm tired, and I still have to finish my sermon for tomorrow.  And tomorrow will be a full day at the church (9 or more hours), and the start to another full week.  And so I am thankful for the rain, that allowed us to cancel the event that I didn't have the energy to do today.  Our people need a break, too.  After all, a busy weekend of church activities doesn't just involve us.  Our people also need their rest and re-creation.  And as lectionary readings from Luke remind us this week, when Jesus was pressed in on all sides by the crowds who came to see him, he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.  Shall we follow?

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