I am supposed to be on vacation but work is never far from my mind. In the world of church people don’t stop being ill or in crisis when you go on vacation. Clergy know this. Some complain bitterly about this reality. Some make a point to go away and don’t leave their contact info. I get both of those responses. But my preferred path has been to respond when I think it is crucial to the well-being of the church and take back some time when I return to work. Clergy do lose a lot of vacation time, time off, when they are interrupted at a dinner with friends or while heading out to the park as someone calls in need of a listening ear. Obviously the nature of this crisis determines the way a minister would process this call.

What most ministers don’t say or perhaps don’t make themselves aware of is that most jobs don’t have the freedom on a slow weekday to hang out with a friend who is only in town for a day. While I recently had to take a call while sitting with friends on a deck having coffee and ice cream I also had the opportunity to take a phone call from an old friend who reached out to me on workday. That is the life of a minister, when we sign up for it we hopefully understand it goes with the territory. But as I remind new ministers there is the flexibility to our work that often compensates for the interruptions in personal or family time. It’s important we understand this, otherwise there is a bitterness or resentment that can fester.

I’ve been lucky to serve churches that have seldom taken advantage of my demeanor and work ethic. Usually when I am chosen by a Search Committee there is an initial worry that I will not be around much because I do a variety of jobs and volunteer assignments. Soon however that concern switches to one where Personnel Committees are warning me to take time off, be with my family more, practice self-care. The regularity and shift from “are you going to give us what we need” to “you are a workaholic” does tend to make me rather frustrated, at least at the outset. But the pattern is constant so I have learned to sit back and let it happen.

What is important for all of us on our vacation is to spend some quality time with those we know and love best and give our bodies and brains some rest. Without that we can easily become grumpy, irritable and resentment of those around us. What complicates the clergy arrangement is that work we give up as we go on vacation is usually shouldered by older volunteers who themselves have only recently retired hoping for a rest. There is a guilty feeling that overcomes me sometimes as I ask someone who is not to be paid to do work I would normally do so I can rest.

I struggle with this, and knowing how little money the churches have, spending and spending on the needs of the clergy; our salary, to replace us when we are at rest, for our time away on study, etc. just seems…

Living in the tension of rest for the good of the soul while at the same time taking account of others and their needs is not easy. Neither end of this spectrum, working all year long nor leaving it all on others and walking away without a thought, just don’t work for me. And so it goes…