Friday, December 04, 2009

Sabbath Rant - UPDATED

Oh, my dear colleagues! If I do not write this here, I am afraid I am soon to burst out and scream at you at a meeting, in perhaps most inappropriate language and tone - to say nothing of the screeching volume at which I would othewise deliver this screed. Unless, of course, I decide to give you passive-aggressive eye-rolling and excessive sighing.

Dear, dear colleagues, if you are at a meeting with other clergy and non-clergy - wait, scratch that.... Dear colleagues, if you are ever at a meeting with other people and the subject of days off comes up, please, please, please resist the urge to say (melodramatically or ironically), "What's a day off?" You may think that you are appearing long-suffering - and indeed, I know for a fact that some of you are extremely long-suffering - but instead you sound insufferable.

As if the work we do is SOOOOOOOOO important that we cannot possibly take a day off to rest and restore our spirits. Do you truly believe that your work is more important and pressing than God's work? And yet, in the very first chapter of Genesis we see that on the seventh day our Lord rested from all that God had made. Rest is meant to be a part of the rhythm of our lives, to balance us from workaday concerns.

I hear the response that if you do not get the work done, the work will not get done. And I say, "So?" Prioritize your work and do what you can. Let go of the rest. So what if there is no bulletin this week because you had two funerals and a wedding, plus several other crises? So what if you only get three pastoral visits in this week, and one of them was a hospital visit? So what if no one else signed up to pass out coffee after church today? Guess what. The church will survive for one week without a bulletin. The members will make do with not having to dust in advance of your visit. The coffee won't get served today.

Or - horrors - someone else will step up at the last minute! Maybe someone will offer to type, collate and fold the bulletin on Sunday before church. Maybe someone will smell the absence of coffee in the air and turn on the pot. And if they don't, they will learn to live without what is not truly necessary. If for your church it is truly necessary (and if by "your church" you mean more than the two cranks who complain about nearly everything), then make clear to your personnel team that you have too much on your plate and that together there needs to be a renegotiation of your priorities and duties. Those priorities must be communicated to the congregation as a whole by someone other than you, and your board must stand in support of those priorities.

And if you find that you're always up until Oh-God-thirty finishing the bulletin or whatever, perhaps this is a reflection of your poor time management, not how busy and important you are. Poor time management is not a source of pride and you shouldn't be going on about that as if it were. If my congregation catches me finishing collating the bulletin on Sunday, at least I'm properly ashamed of that.

Now, I know that there are times in our ministry in which we must work on Saturday, or on our other day off. Occasionally there are weeks when we must work both days. This is unavoidable sometimes, and part of the nature of ministry. We do not work a typical, 9-5, 40-hour work week. I get it. But do not make a habit of it, and then claim that this poor habit is the nature of our work. When those weeks tend to happen every week, the proper response is not to brag about how overworked you are. The appropriate response after more than 2 or 3 weeks running without a true, proper day off is to abashed that things have gotten away from you. If God can keep the Sabbath, so can we - even if we keep it imperfectly at times.

Make up for it as soon as you can, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. At the very least, take the next morning off. Sleep in late. Go home right after the funeral and assorted duties are complete. You need not balance it minute-for-minute - but you need to balance your pastoral work with your life away from the church. Do not mistake your self-imposed martyrdom for actual martyrdom - Jesus does not call you to die on the cross of church Christmas decorations that no one else put up.

Dear colleagues, you are not irreplaceable. Neither am I. And frankly, if I have packed my life so full of things to do that my ministry appears to be just another burden to bear, it is time to cut something out, not to complain about how impossibly busy I am.


Lucky Fresh said...

This is lovely. Thank you.

It's amazing how much pastors regress in one another's presence and become bratty show-offs. What's truly disgusting is the medium (the issue) they use to do it, and you're right on about it.

Sarah Smiles said...

Yeah! Thanks for putting it oput there so clearly, I soooooo agree. I am ashamed to say that I have even felt guilty at times over the years because I have taken a day off while these poor souls worked so hard....Oh! my. The other thing that bug me is that then otherspresent start to out awefulize one another.

HolyKnitter said...

Thank you so much! Just this week, I had to explain to my chair of Deacons that the church would not fall down if she didn't get my annual evaluation completed, like, before Christmas. It's going in a sealed envelope in a drawer, and no one will ever open it. Being a wife and mother and grandmother is far more important, and she's been using her Very Important Deacon Work as an excuse not to spend time with her family. Granted, there are some heavy mental illness issues mixed in there, but I literally used the phrase "the church will not fall down." Because she was talking as if it would. For a piece of paper that no one will ever look at!

You'd better believe I am very protective of my "three-quarter time" work week. I make up for the weeks I go over on days like today, when the snow is coming down like it really means business!

Christina Borel said...

Amen, my sister! Think I need to print this bad boy out and give it to every single one of my colleagues. And imprint it on my own forehead :)