Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Traveling Pastor Edition

Post Author: Askie

Marmot tent lit up at nightDear Askie,

Our pastor is part of your Young Clergy Women Project organization. She’s going to your conference this summer, which I think is great. The problem is that I just heard that she’s also planning on taking two weeks of vacation this summer, and I think she also took a week of vacation in the winter. I guess I’m confused. Doesn’t that make four weeks of vacation, and don’t people normally just get two? She also seems to take a lot of time off of work – often when I call the church she isn’t there, and I don’t think she’s ever been in on any Monday I’ve called. Askie, can you help me understand what’s going on? I thought pastors are supposed to work a lot, so what gives?

Confused Congregant

Dear Confused Congregant,

Thanks for asking! I think that you’re not at all alone in being confused by pastors’ schedules. The way that pastors work and organize our time can be pretty different from how people in traditional office jobs work, so the questions you raised are shared by many laypeople. Pastors have a lot of freedom and not always much oversight, and so there are certainly a few pastors who take advantage; however, your pastor’s time off as you describe it sounds well within reason. It does sound like your pastor may need to communicate better about her schedule – with you, and perhaps with the rest of the congregation. Given the unusual nature of our work, pastors would be well-advised to communicate as clearly as possible about our schedules with our lay leaders, and to make sure that our congregants know how to reach us, who to contact when we’re unavailable, and when they should expect to hear back from us if they contact us during our time off.

You’re right that pastors have more time away from the office than people in a traditional Monday through Friday, 9-5 job. Some of that time is actually vacation time, but some is continuing education time, time that your pastor’s work has taken her away from the office, or her normal time off. You raised several issues in your question, so let’s talk about them one at a time.

My pastor is out of the office a lot: That’s great to hear! Pastoral ministry can take us to a lot of places. If you call or stop by the church and your pastor is out of the office, she might be making hospital visits or meeting with congregants. She might be meeting with colleagues from other churches, or representatives from other organizations your church supports. She might be attending community events. She might be working from home after a late night of church meetings or programming, or writing at a coffee shop because it’s easier to focus on her writing if she’s not also fielding phone calls and visitors. There are many ways your pastor might be working other than sitting at her desk! TYCWP member Traci Smith collected some pastors’ examples of work they do when they’re not in the office here. Maybe you could talk with your pastor about what kind of work takes her out of the office – you might be pleasantly surprised!

My pastor is never in the office on Mondays: It sounds like Monday might be your pastor’s day off, or “sabbath day.” Pastors work every Sunday, and most of us work many or most Saturdays (not in the office, but writing, coordinating or attending events, meeting with congregants, and so on). Everyone needs time to rest, relax, have some fun, and maybe do some laundry… even God rested on the seventh day of creation! Since pastors generally work on weekends, most pastors take either Monday or Friday as a day off.

My pastor is going to a conference: How wonderful to hear that your pastor is coming to TYCWP’s conference in Boston this summer! Part of being a pastor is constantly learning; we’re expected to be diligent in our study of scriptures, to continue to hone our pastoral skills, and to stay current with religious news and research. In recognition that pastors are constantly learning, studying, and reading (often on “our own time”), and that that study is an important part of our work, pastors are typically given up to two weeks of continuing education time: time to attend conferences or other educational opportunities, or just to use as “reading days” to read relevant books and articles. This time is totally separate from vacation, and rightly so because it’s all about getting better at our work! There are a few other kinds of work-related travel pastors may also engage in: attending denominational meetings, taking youth on mission trips, and doing ministry at camps are all ways that pastors serve, and are considered part of our normal work rather than vacation or continuing education. 

My pastor takes a lot of vacation: In many denominations and regions, it’s standard for pastors to receive four weeks of vacation. That is more than many of our congregants get (although, of course, less than our European friends). We pastors know that many in our society are working harder than is manageable, and not receiving nearly enough time off, so we understand that four weeks of vacation may sound impossibly cushy to many of our congregants. One thing to remember, though, is that when a pastor gets four weeks off, that means she can take four Sundays away from the church, total, over the entire year. Most pastors have to think twice before deciding to visit family for Thanksgiving or attend a friend’s wedding, because we have to use our vacation Sundays wisely, and often need to have each Sunday individually approved by the church’s board or personnel committee. Another point to consider: people who have a traditional work week can use five vacation days to take a nine day vacation (leaving town on Friday night or Saturday morning, and returning the following Sunday). In order to take that same vacation, a pastor would need eight vacation days and half of her Sundays for the year. While it may seem like your pastor has a lot of vacation, that perception can be skewed because of other things that take her away from the office, as well as the fact that it’s quite obvious each Sunday that she’s away.

I hope that gives you some perspective on why your pastor isn’t always at her desk, Confused Congregant. Perhaps you could strike up a conversation with your pastor to learn about her plans for continuing education, and for rest and relaxation. And as the summer approaches, I hope that you get some time to rest as well!


Image by: Diana Robinson
Used with permission
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