Monday, May 20, 2013

Oh yeah...I can be "off the clock"

One of the primary things that completely caused me to burn out as a clergyman at my last parish was the fact that I was never "off the clock." Even on weekends, I was never really "off the clock." Clergy never get weekends. They occasionally get a day off, but when one lives in a rectory right next to the church building, you either live where you work, or work where you live. In either case, people know where they can find you, and you cannot escape.

Something always came up when normal people would be "off the clock," whether it was last minute obsessing about a sermon, or (more likely), a parishioner calling to want something done or fixed. They always expected it to be done right then and to their satisfaction. Occasionally, this was legitimate, if someone was in the hospital and needed the priest to come by or something like that. I was always more than happy to call on people in the hospital or do some sacramental function. I was a priest; that was what I did.

However, 9 times out of 10, it was usually something that could either wait until Sunday morning or the next regular office day. When it wasn't done or at least done to the parishioner's satisfaction, there was, frankly, hell to pay either right then or at (usually) some future point. So avoid that, I would usually just attempt to do whatever they wanted within reason. I usually rationalized this to myself by saying, "Putting out a brush fire now saves two days of fighting a full blown forest fire later in the week."

I learned, a little too late in the game, that more often than not, crashing my "off the clock hours" was just a power play by some parishioners to try to push me around because they thought they could get away with it. They assumed I was on salary, which meant I served them. While it is true that clergy are called to be servants, parishioners are likewise called to be servants. I found parishioners seldom remembered that part.

Everyone likes to claim servant ministry  but few really want to be treated as a servant. They would much rather be the master and expect clergy to be like Mr. Carson on Downton Abbey, where all they have to do is ring their little bell and the clergy servant appears in coattails to serve up a 7-course meal of pastoral delights. But then, I don't have to worry about this any more.

I'm off the clock.


The Underground Pewster said...

In my vocation, I spent many years as the only one on the clock, and that motivated me (from the get-go)to grow the business so that I could add partners.

Another way to help with solo-clergy burn out is to grow disciples. We have a lay-chaplaincy program n our diocese that trains up a few of these each year for the various churches. Developing pastoral care teams to handle crises is also important.

Anonymous said...

Father, I hope you'll rest (mentally more than physically) and enjoy your being off the clock. I'm sure that despite all the problems you've done much God's work in SD and that our Lord still has His plans for making good use of you in the future.
There are always all sorts of people in a parish. Cherish your good memories and don't get bitter.
Certainly, the modern protestant model of a parish has to do with what you describe as the pitiful "I pay, hence I demand" attitude of some parishioners. If Church is really governed by a bishop, then a priest is not a hired man but a man sent with a mission to the parish by the local bishop. As always, the question of authority within the Church makes all the difference...
I'll keep praying for you and your family from across the pond (I have since you asked).
May St. Kateri intercede for you.
JRM from Central Europe

Alice Linsley said...

I too wish you God's blessing in this time. Christ our God is faithful and he will guide you.