The Guilt Battle


So, I’ve been on hols.

Lots of thinking and writing time.

A small disaster of a locked iPad and losing a week of writing but I am over that (french wine definitely helped).

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing more about being a working mum, a clergy mum in fact, and how that works (or doesn’t as the case may be). So as I continue to ponder that here’s something I wrote recently for the fab Junia Project blog competition. I didn’t win but it expresses so much of what I’m feeling at the mo I thought I’d share it here anyway…

 

The Guilt Battle  

I’m a ‘CM’- aka ‘Clergy Mum’ and a fair-weather feminist. Fair-weather? Well, yes, because if I am completely honest I spend way too much time wondering what it would be like to spend my days as a ‘SAHM’ (Stay at Home Mum): in my mind I could be baking wonderful nourishing treats for my perfectly behaved offspring, to munch on the moment they waft through the door; I lust after perfectly plumped cushions and dust-free floors; and goodness, what would it be like to arrive for the school run with delightfully brushed hair and, heaven forbid, manicured nails?

This is my daydream. On the days when I screech up to school 10 minutes late with the Vicar on my mobile phone plotting the weeks events, as I shove my children into the car, waving furiously for them to be quiet so I sound at least vaguely professional, and responding to the cries of ‘we’re hungry, did you bring a snack?’ by frantically searching the glove box for a non-furry mint imperial or two. Thing about actual dreams is they are usually completely bonkers and full of our own anxieties…

As a ‘Clergy Mum’ my daily life swings from the unclimbable washing mountain, where the summit is never reached; to the hand holding of the dying, preparing for another’s perhaps unwanted, summit. Both are an absolute privilege and yet I never feel that I am succeeding at either, more like just about keeping the wheels on. The only time the cushions actually get plumped is when my kids are throwing them at each other. Guilt has been an unwelcome guest in my life for far too long because being an egalitarian in the church is tough, and sometimes I’m just tired of fighting my way through it – those are the times I think about booking that manicure at the spa.

And yet, I feel called to be a wife, a mother and a minister. I am the daughter of an ambitious, working mother. I have a wonderful husband who shares equally in the domesticity of our lives and the crowd control, err, I mean parenting, of our children, and, whose gluten-free Yorkshire Puddings are to die for. So what’s the guilt all about then?

Like many women (and men) age-old societal norms still lurk in our souls ready to jump out and whack us over the head when we are least expecting it; stereotypical ideals still scream at us from advertising and media (‘mansize tissues’ anyone?); and negative words once spoken within our earshot whisper themselves to us on a loop. As if fighting our way in ‘a man’s world’ wasn’t enough, sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Those guilty, fear-filled thoughts call out to us enticing us to wallow in them:

‘Am I a bad mother?’

‘Will our kids turn out as delinquents because I haven’t made them home-made brownies?’

‘Will I be frowned upon for expressing that opinion in a room full of men?’

and, insert your own personal insecurity here

But instead of heading to the spa, as inviting as it may be, and the oh so fluffy towels… No, no. I shall not be tempted… Instead, I seek out spiritual support. In 2 Timothy 1: 6-7, Paul (he of ‘we love to hate him’ fame) notes:

‘Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind’.

 

Not fear, But: Power. Love. A sound mind.

Three tools for us to use when the guilt and condemnation strike.

So, Power. Not of the power-tool variety sadly, though I feel sure there is an analogy in there somewhere, no, a spirit of power. God gives us great power in many ways, but for now, how about ‘choice’? Choice, so simple and yet such a gift. Choice gives us such power and authority and we must take hold of it and use it. As Paul Coelho once noted, the day will come when we may well be asked:

‘What have you done with the miracles that God planted in your days? What have you done with the talents God bestowed on you?’

What am I doing with that gift of choice, when I am wishing I was immersed in a culinary masterpiece rather than heading out the door to yet another evening meeting? With one foot in the parenting camp and one firmly in the church, (which remains largely a man’s world) I feel continually called to challenge ingrained attitudes. I have power to influence those around me, to gently bring to mind the unrecognised lenses through which people view the world; to point out the comments that wound ‘unintentionally’; or the decisions that are formed with ‘inadvertent’ prejudice.

There is no guilt in God’s power.

 

And, Love. Love simply has to be the cornerstone of all we do. Paul says ‘without love I am just a clanging cymbal’, he even says love is worth more than understanding all mysteries and knowledge, which is a pretty big deal really. Sometimes all that is needed is to draw attention to something – people view things through their own upbringing and experience without knowing what they do. Of course there are the haters too, but why join them? Why be part of #TeamAngry?

Whenever I feel trodden upon, whenever another minister turns his back on me because of the lumps on my chest, whenever I am ignored, shouted down or belittled, whenever my own sisters in Christ accuse me of ‘letting the side down’, I choose to respond in love. Love is the best bomb disposal unit ever invented. Have you seen how quickly a loving word can deflate a puffed up angry chest?

There is no guilt in God’s love.

 

And finally, a sound mind. God gave me a sound mind. Really? A sound mind often seems far from me, when all around is blurring into one, when I start to preach the shopping list instead of my carefully crafted sermon – now in the clutches of my husband and his shopping trolley – then I need to remember the sound mind bit. But more than that, it’s so easy to let harmful words permeate our less than thick skin, you know that old playground rhyme ‘sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words will never break me’? What a lot of tosh, sometimes words are the most hurtful, the things that stick with us and taunt us when we need it least. Knowing that the Lord has given us a mind to use, a brain to compute with, and the thought processes to fight our way out of a guilt battle can be a huge comfort.

There is no guilt in a God-given sound mind.

 

So, when the kids are clamouring for supper and there’s just half a block of slightly old cheese and a squishy apple in the house; when the next evening meeting goes beyond 10pm debating the vitally important issue of church cobwebs; or when I realise the only conversation I’ve had with my husband in 3 weeks is one about clearing up cat sick, then I will stir up in myself:

‘God has given me a spirit of power, of love and a sound mind’

and I am going to darn well use it.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

The alternative priestly post

So after the heartfelt post on Monday, I thought an alternative view of my Priesting might be good too, definitely a sign that God has a sense of humour..

I think it all began a few weeks ago when I randomly met the Bishop’s Chaplain and we bonded in the wine aisle of the local village shop, and then moving swiftly to the rehearsal last week, which involved a lot of humour, and regular interjections of ‘oh bugger’ when things weren’t going quite as planned, and then of course finally on to the retreat itself.

And I have to say that after the busyness of the last few weeks it was actually rather lovely to go to evensong in the cathedral, which is not my usual style as I’m sure you know, but there is something about just sitting and listening and letting the music flow over you. So there I was, just sat with my eyes shut, a thousand voices (maybe a slight exaggeration) singing melodiously and in harmony, when I could have sworn I heard those melodious words singing about a trump…

My eyes snaped open, torn form the stupor of beautiful music as I busily scan the pages to check, and there I read the lines:

“God is gone up with a merry noise and the Lord with the sound of the trump”

focus, focus, do not make eye contact with anyone else, stifle those smirks…

Is it just me but when I go into a super formal environment (like the cathedral) I have to suppress the urge to be silly or irreverent, so you can imagine, then the strength it took to suppress my giggles at the word ‘trump’ on top of anything else. You know what they say, if you can’t laugh at farts then you are too old…

almost liturgical nail varnish…

There followed discussing the merits of nail varnish and diamonds with the Bishop over drinks – as you do – and sometime later, with all of us either in cassocks or collar, sent off in silence to the best prepared and holiest of places for a silent retreat: Chichester Travelodge. As we traipse along at 9.30 in the evening, all in a line, not talking, we pass the nightlife of Chichester, and watch their comedy responses to our appearance like some kind of cross between Father Ted and Harry Potter.

Of course the merits of a silent retreat (which I would say I was honouring and not even watching the news the day after the election – so much was my commitment to silence) were only slightly marred by the stag party residing in the travelodge that were up until 3am and requiring a police presence. It is rather amusing that both our pre ordination silent retreats have been less than silent, with last years before deaconing regularly interspersed with grunts and shouts from the women’s group sharing our accommodation and seemingly having some kind of releasing workshop.

This positive experience was only added to by waking up to the enormous joy that I had my period (getting my period on the day of my Priesting – gee thanks Lord, I mean aren’t you in charge of the universe couldn’t you have rigged that one?) (yes ok perhaps slightly TMI but it’s funny. Well it wasn’t at the time I can tell you…). My kids will tell you I cry at anything, I don’t think that’s quite fair but you can imagine though that my propensity for tears was not exactly helped by the appearance of such hormones in my life. I may or may not have gone through a large amount of mascara.

cassocks-a-go-go

attempting to stay cool…

Finally it was time for the service and we all prepared in the sweltering heat of a British summer that for once is living up to it’s name, as we all don several layers of thick fabric covering us from neck to toe.

As we approached the door of the church someone, (ok it may have been me) instigated a bet on the length of time of the service, which was actually won to the minute at 1 hour 50mins by one of our number.

The service itself was went well, apart from the reappearance of tears, no trump lines this time, but one of the funniest moments was as we turned to process out when I find myself facing the other charmismatic among us and we are both unsure whether to bow before we leave. What followed was a comedy chuckle brothers moment where we half bow, half turn, turn back and end up in hysterics as we finally walk out. Oh how reverent…

So there we are, and perhaps the thing that makes me recognise God’s sense of humour more than anything is that I am a Priest! I keep having sudden moments of clarity and being like ‘flippin heck I am a Priest. Now how on earth did that happen…?!’

 

A Priesting prayer. ( Or just some rambling thoughts…)

Chichester Cathedral in glorious sunshine

 

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

 

I often hear people utter in prayer: ‘less of me and more of you God’.

I don’t know about you but I really can’t stand it. It just makes no sense to me at all. Oh yes I know what the sentiment is, before you all holler: it recognises our own brokenness and the need of a saviour, I get all that, we want to be more like Jesus. But for me, focussing on that phrase just leads us down the path to self denial, to dark and condemning thoughts, it leads us away from the truth that God made us, that he knit us together in our mothers wombs.

Look, of course there are always the few who think the sun shines out of their own derrieres, but there are many many more who question themselves, not fully convinced of their identity in Christ. Lack of self worth and recognition of the talents and characteristics that form us into unique and beautiful individuals, leads us away from God, not to him.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

In the same breath that the Psalmist asks God to search him, to sift through his heart, to seek out the specks of offense, to lead him into the light, he notes:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

So wouldn’t a better prayer be: ‘more of the me who you made me to be and more of you God’?

….o0O0o…

I write less than 48 hours after being ordained a Priest in the Church of England. 72 hours ago I was heading off to retreat with my fellow Curates, feeling utterly convinced of my own brokenness, less than prepared and with a host of reasons why God was wrong about sending me to this.

(I know it’s common to feel that way and it was suggested to me over the weekend that if I didn’t feel that way I shouldn’t be doing it anyway).

I was walking towards the retreat and Priesting with my head hung low, making my bed in the depths. And yet over that 24 hours God spoke to me saying:

Where can you go from my Spirit? Where can you flee from my presence? all the days ordained for you were written in my book before one of them came to be.

Gently lifting my head, speaking precious words over me and leading me towards the way everlasting…

….o0O0o…

It all started with a few words: ‘I’ve re-discovered Jesus through you…’

– an unexpected email arriving moments before leaving for retreat gushed with such love and encouragement for my ministry. I believe God sent me those words to break through the wall of condemnation I had built around myself. To remind me that I am doing what he has called me to do. That really it’s not about me, it’s about him, and about the people round me. I’m just the bee busily buzzing round in the middle, hoping to pollinate those I come across with the potential for new life, for transformation and growth. I sobbed as I read that email, knowing that yet again God was peeling back the darkness and revealing his truth.

Then a few hours later, a suggestion from an advisor to focus on Psalm 139. I know it well of course, but an hour spent sat in the gorgeous surroundings of the Bishops Palace Garden, and taking in those words peeled away more. Noticing the beauty in the detail of God’s creation all around me, a robin coming to join me for a snack so close I could see the detail in his tiny feathers, the light glinting in his beady eye fixed on me, seemingly searching my heart. As I sat, prayed, wondered and read, those words spoke warmth and validation into my soul afresh.

And then the words of the Bishop himself, ‘charging’ us afresh for the ministry of a Priest, encouraging us to be ourselves, but ourselves with Christ in us. That people see our face – they want to see our face, our humanity, our reality, our humanness, not a ‘clerical cardboard cut out’.

Then finally the moment arrived, my robes which felt so alien just a year ago, now feel like a faithful friend (though I’ve only worn them a handful of times!) and we process in together, surrounded by those who have taken this journey before us, those who stand and support us now and those who are beside us in the work we are doing.

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.

We stand and face the congregation as they are asked to affirm their support for us, I am face to face with my Vicar – someone who knows me, has seen me in distress, in anger and in doubt. And as he looks me straight in the eye and tells me he supports me and will pray for me and encourage me, I feel those last bits of self doubt falling away.

Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.

Then one at a time we kneel before the Bishop, again someone who knows me well, who knows my frustrations, my hopes and fears for the church, and in spite of this he prays for the Holy Spirit to fill me, equip me for the office and work of a Priest, gives me a bible and anoints my hands asking for the empowering of God upon me.

We turn and stand before the congregation to rapturous applause and cheering and I am undone.

 

…o0O0o…

Despite my self doubt, despite my failings, my mistakes, my frustrations, this feels right. It seems completely insane, I still wonder why God has called me to this, but I know it’s right and recognsing the gifts God has given me and my characterisitcs, they are there to enable me to fulfill this role. Traits I’ve thought were negatives in me, suddenly become essential tools for ministry; emotions that I find hard to handle, appear as necessary to support others; and my wilfullness and stubborn nature become the backbone I need to survive ministry.

I feel affirmed.

 

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 

So, Lord, now as I step into this future, I pray :

more of the me who you made me to be, and more of you God.

Amen

Surviving the first year of curacy

It’s nearly a year since ordination and I’ve survived! 

Sometimes it feels like it’s only by the skin of my teeth, but I’m still here nonetheless. So I thought now might be a good time to do a post of the things I’ve learned in that year, for those who are about to start Curacy.

 

1. Meeting the Vicar

Ok so technically this is pre-curacy but when you get to meet your TI for the first time do think very carefully before you go, about what you want to know. The meeting is as much for you as for them. How do you work? How do they work. Are those two compatible?! If you have questions, ask them, and find out exactly what is expected of you and when. Title Post agreements can be notoriously vague so if you have other things to consider (like a life) – or more specifically kids, partner, or especially if you are an SSM your paid employment – agree what you can and can’t do in terms of days and hours, and then stick to it.

 

2. Starting date

We moved house 3 weeks before I was ordained and started work. This was a luxury that I know not everyone has but it you can, make sure there is time between the two. In the run up to ordination you will have to finish college and essays or a dissertation, not to mention possibly managing a house move, potential meetings at the new church, saying goodbye to the old one, clerical garb to buy and who knows what else. Having a break before you are thrown into the madness is really useful. I know some dioceses don’t ordain Curates until September giving you the summer to have a break, which seems eminently more sensible. Of course you will be keen to get going but you might not get a break for a while so start with one instead if you can.

 

3. Burning out (or rather NOT burning out)

And on that, the first 6 months are completely exhausting. Unless you’ve stayed in your sending parish (which is very unusual unless you’ve planted a church for example) everything is new. New people, new places, new house, new job, new schools for the kids, and any selection of the above – it is draining on so many levels, mentally as well as physically, so try to take regular breaks, get rest where you can, don’t book too much in the diary, make sure your treat tin is packed and the wine rack full.

With 2 and 3 in mind let’s just think about working hours…

 

4. Working hours

There are no actual set hours from Min Div that tell you how much you should work, and every diocese, Bishop and even Vicar seems to differ. There are of course many benefits to flexible working time which means that for example as a parent I can stop work at 4 to do the school run and dinner, and then continue work in the evening. However it also means it’s nearly impossible to work out how much you are working. I spent some time in the first few months writing down my hours and what I was doing to work out exactly what was going to work for us as a family. Some weeks were bonkers and made me realise I needed to manage my diary better, but others showed me that I could be flexible.

As above, I suggest chatting to your TI about it when you start and then review it after 6 months or so if you can to see how it is going.

A while back I wrote some posts on getting the balance right, here and here which come with input from lots of clergy, so do read them if you can and find out what works for you.

 

5. What keeps you sane?

Again, leading on from the previous point, you have to look after yourself! Clergy burn out numbers are huge, start as you mean to go on and get a good balance. What helps you to feel rested? or what helps energise you? or just gives you peace? Game of squash, knitting, hanging out with friends? Whatever it is, prioritise it, book it in your diary and don’t drop it unless you really have to. Same goes for prayer/reflection/ retreat time – make sure it’s in there and doesn’t get dropped unless it’s vital!


6. Diary planning

This might not work for you but I put everything in my diary. Literally everything. I am ruthless. I use google calendar so I can access it easily from my phone if I’m out and about. I also share it with my husband’s calendar so we know what we’re each doing and when.

Each few months I go through and block in:

: Prayer time – including a morning every month for a longer prayer time (though I often use this to work I’m ashamed to say)

: IME/ study time

: Weekly running/exercise – keeps me sane and is part of my back recovery

: Days off – in red! and I never (unless an emergency) book things on my day off

: Home stuff / date nights/ Kids stuff/school events etc

Only then do I go through and put in regular meetings like PCC, staff meeting, and regular events. Closely followed by other church stuff eg: preaching, alpha, group sessions. I then add in the preparation time needed for each – so if I’m preaching I block out at a minimum a day to prepare (often spread over 2 days).

Then, anytime after that I book something else into my diary, I also add in the time I need to prepare it at the same time. I learned that if I don’t do this I just end up with a full week of stuff and no time to prep any of it.

I also try and have one day a week where I work from home for the whole day and catch up on admin and one afternoon I keep free for meeting people/pastoral visits, it doesn’t mean there won’t be others but just means at least I have one afternoon available at short notice if needed.

Sounds very regimented but it works for me and I swear by Google calendar.

Also a quick side note, you may have a shared work calendar, so if you need to book things in and don’t want the entire staff team to know what they are use a code system! I know people who use inititals eg: TFM = time for me; ABC = anything but church, that sort of thing, don’t have to tell people what they are!

 

7. On not being the Von Trapp family

Obviously it depends on your circumstances and your family if you have one, but there can be a tendency for churches to expect a lot from clergy partners and families, for example that they will come to everything, help, join in and generally be extra free help. I think that’s particularly the case for clergy wives. So, set boundaries as you need, don’t feel pressured into anything and if your kids are being a nightmare, just parent them as you normally would, don’t expect them to be perfect angels just because you work for the church.

Wider boundaries are key, especially with a family. For example, you don’t have to always answer the phone, door, email, text etc. I have an answerphone on both home and mobile and I tell people to use it as I often can’t respond straight away, and friends and family know that I call screen so if I hear it’s them I will pick up if I can! If you do answer any of the above on your day off then I think it’s harder to expect people to then respect your day off.

Family-wise, if people come to our home for meetings I don’t run around clearing up (unless it’s really bad!) and if the kids are watching TV in the next room we put up with the volume through the wall. I don’t book meetings between 6-7 unless unavoidable as that’s when we eat and Saturdays I only do essential work so that we get some family time.

School hols I avoid just thinking ‘I’ll just work from home’ which just doesn’t work for us and isn’t fair on our kids, and so we try to balance doing things with the kids and having friends over for them, or days out with Granny & Grandad when we do need to work at home.

 

8. Social media

I love social media as I’m sure you all know, great tool for the church and communication. But I have thought very carefully about my use of it since working for the church. In fact I now have two Facebook accounts – one is a family page I have with my husband for keeping in touch with family, pics etc and one that I use for work. So If I get friend requests from people I only have vague links with I point them to the more public page. Keeping boundaries, I usually don’t put personal things or pictures of my kids on my public profiles, and if I’m going to mention them in a sermon I do check with them first.

I find I think more carefully about what I tweet/post whilst trying to still be myself and I’ve also had a chat to my TI about my blog before I started the job to make sure he was ok with it.

 

9. Making friends

A difficult one. People have different opinions on this, some think you need to have good friends in any parish to help sustain you in ministry, especially if you’ve moved far away from family and friends. Others think it’s better not to as you’re there to be a leader and lines can be blurred. I really think this is one that you need to work out what’s right for you.

You might also find yourself overwhelmed with people asking you around when you first arrive, equally no one might! And on this I think key things are:

Being consistent – so if you accept invites from someone more than once and tell others you haven’t got time, that isn’t going to go down terribly well.

Secondly – though it sounds mercenary, prioritise your friends. We haven’t moved far from where we lived before so we make a real effort to see a few key people who are really important to us. They get prioritised over other invites because it’s important for us personally and as a family. Might seem selfish to some but as I said it’s important to us and I’m quite happy to explain that to people if they ask.

For whatever reason you may need (or want) to say no to invites. I’m not sure there is an easy way to say no when parishoners ask you over, but a couple of suggestions are:

: If you get lots of invites, host your own evening drinks and invite people to you, so it’s on your terms and timings.

: Offer to meet for coffee instead so you can do that during the day instead of taking up an evening or having to involve your partner/family

: Use real reasons eg: husband is busy with work, difficult to get a babysitter, we don’t do evenings as we keep them for family,

Whatever happens make sure you have a good support network, friends family, other clergy, mentor or Spiritual Director.

 

10. Not everyone has a great Curacy

There’s so much more I could say but this has to be the final point for now. No matter how good your planning or how much prayer and discernment has gone into it, your curacy may have issues.

For example: your TI gets another job, leaves or goes on sick leave, leaving you holding the fort; you just don’t get on with or disagree hugely with your TI; the expectations put on you are too much; you have a falling out with someone in the congregation, to name just a few.

If you find yourself struggling, please please please don’t suffer in silence. It can be easy to feel like you are new to this and shouldn’t complain or that is might be partly your fault, or will you jeopardise your future if you ask for help. If appropriate talk to your TI first off, or if not then the Archdeacon, or person who oversees Curates. Get advice, help and support and don’t be fobbed off if you really need it.

In some cases it might mean moving curacy, this is rare but not as rare as you might think. If it does happen, don’t panic. Get support where you can and don’t take it to heart, especially at the start of your ordained life.

 

…o0O0o…

So there you go, a few thoughts on what I’ve learned this year. I”m sure there is plenty more (I mean for a start I haven’t even mentioned Jesus –  #EpicFail – so if you’ve been through this already and have other points to add, do let me know and I’ll include them. And if you’re about to start Curacy, I hope it goes really well! If I can help or answer any questions do let me know.

 

Hidden Beauty

It’s my day off today which means I have slept in, my husband has taken the kids to school and I have finally surfaced at 11am, and breakfasting with a cup of tea and some chocolate (because I can, ok?), I find myself looking out the window onto the garden we’ve spent many hours working on this weekend.

We love our Curacy house, it is an absolute blessing, and far beyond what we had hoped for. But when we moved in, it’s fair to say the garden was a tad neglected. A lovely neighbour from the church had been round and moved the lawn but aside from that it was a bit of a jungle. There was a rotting shed in the corner, a strange sort of fenced off inner sanctum, which we later discovered was the result of a previous tenant owning a lot of cats, (random, yes) and very overgrown. Thankfully we like a gardening challenge and over the last year (aided a lot by my parents) we’ve started to transform this mess into something more loved.

When you preach regularly you tend to view life through the lens of ‘well, that would make a good sermon illustration’ and there are so many in this garden but I think my favourite here was the gift of an apple tree.

This was one side of the garden when we moved in.

 

You can just about see that those grey posts are holding back a chicken wire fence and what looks like a large amount of ivy, in fact I’d call it an ivy tree it was that bad, as well as some other overgrown bushes. On closer inspection we found that behind this fence was another 4 foot of garden, with the fence going round 2 sides of the garden. It was impossible to work out what was behind it or to weed or plant anything as you just couldn’t access it. So one swift phone call to the diocesan housing department and they agreed we could take it out, but on the strict understanding that they weren’t paying for it!

So we all got to work. 

And work it was, the fence posts were about 4 foot into the ground in a large amount of concrete and it took an entire day to get the first post out. But when we did, we were amazed to find a tree behind it.Not only that, an apple tree, with apples growing on it. You can just about see them poking through the ivy here:

 

 

A lot of cutting back followed and the first of many many trips to the tip before the tree and some wonderful plants that had been hidden, emerged from the chaos, including well established rosemary and sage plants. Suddenly we found that the overgrown mess we thought we had, actually contained both the beautiful and the sustaining. 

The garden is still very definitely a work in progress and further cutting back halted whilst the birds nest, but here is the tree now, and the herb bed that we expanded in front of it.

 

I love the image this gives of the stuff that is hidden in the mess of our lives. Some of us are pretty messed up and then God, the ultimate gardener, starts to prune away and pull out our weeds. It’s tough going sometimes, hard work and painful.  Bits of roots get left behind and start to regrow and need to be pulled up again, but this time it’s less painful, until there is nothing left of that weed.

And underneath it all is something worthwhile, something beautiful, something that with a bit of nurturing can grow and flourish.

And into that we can plant new things, useful things, things that bring glory to God, things that can give life, and sustain us.

Just like me, our garden is still a work in progress, sometimes it’s raining and cold and I don’t want to go near it, other times it’s easy, the sun is thing and I can’t wait to get out there, and sometimes it’s just darn hard work.

I’ve recently found myself with my morning cuppa, staring out the window and looking at the fruits of our labour, the beauty in the garden and reflecting on it. I like to think that’s what God does as he looks at us – sees the beauty, recognises the hard work that has gone into us, and takes pleasure in just admiring us.

‘Top Tips’ for clergy work-life balance in families…

Following on from yesterday’s look at working hours and balance of family life, here’s some top tips as gleaned from other Clergy Mums. And as with yesterday I feel I should say again, that these are as applicable in some cases to male clergy, single parents, those with no children, and to other professions, as they are to Clergy Mums. I just write it from the basis of being a Clergy Mum, and being part of a working couple, where both of us work full time.

1) Prayer life

Ok so this should go without saying but I know from experience that prayer or devotional time can easily be squeezed out when you are busy. Don’t let this happen!! Our relationship with God is more important than anything else. And I also don’t think it’s possible to do this job without being in a good place faith-wise.

 

2) Hours

Ok here’s the thing, I’d say don’t bother counting hours – it can be useful for a week or so as you work out what is right for you, but better to put some foundations in place. That said, if you are going to do it, or keep an idea of it, then try and work to 48 hours max. There will be weeks that go over this but if you try and keep to a decent level then when those weeks happen you won’t be totally overworked.

3) 2/3 Sessions in a day

So, on ground rules, this is one you might have heard of – if you imagine 3 sessions in a day being morning, afternoon evening, only work 2 out of 3 (I’ve also heard it as 5 sessions and work 4 only). I’ve also heard people say this is ‘a nice idea but really impractical’ but I think it’s a good rule to try and work to then on the occasions you need to do all three it won’t become the norm.

4) Working pattern

If you are a newbie Curate like me, then work out a pattern with your TI that works for you both, and bear in mind that this might need adjusting as you settle in to the role.

Use your diary – I block out everything: sermon prep time, prayer time, events, a day for admin at home (combatting the dreaded emails), and I even block out an afternoon each week to keep free for meeting people, otherwise the diary gets so full I have to book people in weeks in advance.

Also suggested to me was to go through your diary a few months at a time and put in all the key things for you and your family – birthdays, school events, and things that just can’t be missed. This is especially key if you have a diary that other staff can see. Then don’t book anything over those times. I also book in date nights and key time with the kids – which I am prepared to change if need be but at least they are in there. Also put in all the key work dates in advance and then you won’t be surprised with any clashes at the last minute.

5) Say no

Once you’ve filled in your diary, say no when you need to! Outside of the day to day, only go to what you have to or feel really called to, yes some people won’t like this but just explain you need to get a healthy balance and that you want to model that. If the Flower Club want you to come to every meeting and you can’t face it, then perhaps suggest coming once a year or only to their AGM. And DON’T FEEL GUILTY!!

6) Make life easier wherever you can

Get a cleaner, order your shopping online to be delivered, get a gardener if necessary. And lower your standards, it doesn’t matter if the house is a bit messy, just embrace it! Childminders, nannies, holiday clubs may well be essential at times too, and of course this requires a certain level of income but this post is on the basis of both partners working full time. Do what is right or necessary for you.

7) Dinner

If they are old enough, get your kids involved in helping cook and also accept that sometimes you might need to serve up supper as beans on toast or a pizza. It’s not the end of the world and you will all survive! I actually find cooking when I have the time, really relaxing, so I tend to take time on my day off to cook a batch of something and put some in the freezer for the days when I am more busy.

8) Is someone going to die?

This was a piece of advice given to me when running my own business, largely as a joke over, ‘if this thing doesn’t get done, no one is going to die’. In ministry that takes a different tone of course, but things can often be termed as immediately urgent when in fact they can wait at least a day or so. So, is someone going to die? Yes? Then fine, drop what you need to and go. If not, well frankly if they are already dead, then a few days later for a funeral won’t kill anyone (and if it will, refer to the previous question). Slightly facetious I know, but do weigh up quite how urgent/important things are, which may not be as much as is being made out – sometimes they might of course and then you can take the call.

9) Rest/ Sabbath.

We need to rest! Especially if you are doing 6 day working weeks. According to Genesis, the first thing humans did on this planet was to have a day of rest before they even did anything.

Find out what helps you rest and do it. For some that is in being active, going for a walk or to the gym, for others it is literally slobbing in PJs all day. Whatever it is, turn off the phone, email and doorbell and veg out. I know some clergy find they need to leave the house to avoid all work on their day off and if that’s you, do what you need to. Clergy burn out is a huge issue in the church so don’t be one of them.

10) The word ‘busy’

I try not to use the word ‘busy’ even though people use it of me. I feel that God has called us to this line of work, and he will give us the time we need to do it, after all he is the author of time. So if you are exhausted or not getting things done then perhaps it is time for a rethink of the balance or what you are doing in your work time.

Also for me, I don’t want people thinking I am too busy to see them, when they might be in need, I want to be accessible so if I can give an atmosphere of having a good life balance then perhaps that will help. Of course others find the opposite and have congregations who expect them to be available 24/7 and that’s another kettle of fish!

 

So there we go, 10 top tips for surviving in ministry with family. I would love to hear if you have any more and we can do a second post! Thanks also to all the lovely clergy who contributed ideas for this list.

 

Challenging clergy work-life balance


The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed via the medium of social media that I’ve been asking a lot of questions about working hours recently. It started off as part of my own journey to discover what was the right balance for us as a family as we get used to my new role. I am of course writing from the perspective of a ‘Clergy Mum’ but I am sure that much of this applies equally to single parents, those without children, men and indeed to those working in other areas.

We seem to live in a time where many professions have such a huge ‘work culture’, with people expected to work long hours, often under immense pressure, and seemingly with less and less understanding, or support for, family life.

Perhaps you could say that we are trying to have our cake and eat it. We want or need to work and then expect our employers to fit around our own life choices? There is an argument for that, indeed why should businesses potentially loose out when their employee is making life difficult for them or not doing what they have been asked? 

But I would argue two things – firstly, that if we want the best employees, or if we want to get the best out of people, there still needs to be far more flexibility than there is now, and a greater level of understanding.

Secondly, that there is evidence that shows those who work more than 55 hours a week are at far greater risk of medical conditions including stroke & heart disease. Not only that but after 50 hours productivity dips massively.

I wonder, is this current model of work actually doing more harm than good?

…o0O0oo…

So, what’s my point?

Well, since I was ordained I have come across (at many turns) the idea that clergy work 50-60 hours a week. It’s a figure bandied around with little question – apparently that’s just what needs to happen to get the job done. And yes I’ve only been ordained for 5 minutes so you’d be forgiven for telling me to get some more experience before I criticise. Perhaps so, but as I enter this new phase of life I am frankly not prepared to spend the next 3 or 4 years figuring out that 50-60 hours a week will wreck my family life and/or my health. I want to start as I mean to go on, with a healthy balance. The church is very good at talking about the sacrifice of being in ordained ministry and I’m not averse to that in some respects, but it also seems a cover-all excuse for anything that is expected of us.

So I did a little (very scientific, not) survey asking fellow clergy how many hours they worked each week, via social media. Two things stood out:

1) That it’s not just hearsay – over 65% of full time clergy actually work on average more than 50 hours a week, and over 25% of them doing more than 60 hours.

 

Did you know that The European Working Time Directive requires requires, (amongst other things) that EU countries guarantee the following rights for all workers:

a limit to weekly working hours, which must not exceed 48 hours on average, including any overtime

As I understand it this was brought in as it was recognised that working longer than this contributed to stress, mental health problems and other illnesses.

2) Secondly, there are not that many women in my situation – which is working in Full Time (6 days a week) stipendary ministry with a husband who works full time and school age kids at home.

There are of course a good number of female clergy with families working in the Church of England now, but many seem to either have older children who have left home, or husbands who work part time in order to support them or help at home, or they themselves don’t work full time. In fact in my diocese I think I am one of two women doing this.

All of which makes me think that we, as the church, need to encourage different and healthy models of working, both within ministry and of working life in general. For a start, how will we encourage younger women into ordained ministry with the kind of hours faced by clergy now?

My training incumbent has been really supportive on this and is not expecting me to work all the hours God sends. However I have found it tough being in an environment – in the wider church not just my own church – where the work ethic is so huge and expectations so high.

We could say that it is the responsbility of individual clergy to manage their own hours sensibly and they are quite within their rights to work way more than is recommended in the EU Working Time Directive, but how easy that when there is a ‘norm’ expected and worked out by many? Guilt I am sure, is a huge factor here (see previous post on this).

And actually, after all the church values both marriage and family life enormously, and yet often a healthy balance to family and work life is not modelled by the church leadership or by clergy. As one person noted during my surveys on Social Media: we are called to be counter-cultural within the church, and that being as committed to our families as much as to the church, is a witness in itself. We are called to both.
Which is why I am writing about this now. I, we, haven’t yet got the balance right yet in our family, but I am here saying that I am not going to feel guilty about stopping work at 4pm to pick up the children from school, or not going to an evening meeting because I have booked in a date night with my husband, or protecting my day off fiercely so that I get some time out. As leaders we need to model a healthy balanced way of working, and that might mean saying no sometimes or upsetting people, but I think if we can be honest and open about why, then we are being both true to ourselves and what God has called us to, as well as helping others to see that too…

 

Coming up tomorrow is a post of top tips of how to balance work/life based on advice from other clergy and clergy Mums, which has been invaluable in helping me feel ok about all of this!

More on Marriage, Motherhood & Ministry // The guilt factor

Ok so this one isn’t just about being in ministry, I think it’s common for many Mums, and probably Dads too, but why do we, as working Mums, feel so damn guilty all the time? Guilty about not getting enough work done, guilty about not spending enough time with the kids, guilty about not fitting in a date night, guilty about not helping with the school PTA, guilty about not doing the housework, guilty about using Amazon and not going to the High Street, guilty about having to take time off when a child is ill, guilty about taking time off when we are ill, guilty about taking 5 mins for a cup of tea in a long day, guilty about wanting to have some time to ourself, guilty about not wanting to spend that time with our husband/wife/child, guilty about not going to child’s rugby match, guilty about paying for childcare, guilty that we aren’t f**ing perfect…?

I mean listen, this is not the 1950s, it’s ok that we, as women, go out to *whispers* work. As much as some of the older generation may at times question it, it really is not a big deal. We are not expected to swan around at home in a perfectly pressed, and home-made day dress, whilst scrubbing the floor, darning socks and making jam that will keep us going all year. This is the 21st century and society, largely but let’s not dwell on that here, has accepted, even embraced and welcomed women in the workplace…

But often I think it’s us that hasn’t quite embraced it. I mean many women work as many, if not more, hours in paid employment than their husbands. So for example in this house, everything around the house is shared, from housework to shopping, to kids school runs and playdates, Christmas planning, and my husband cooked Christmas lunch last week because, of course, I am working. We haven’t got the balance right, we’re transitioning from me working part time, where we still shared the home admin but I did more as I was at home more. Now it’s all shared and we are trying to get the right balance. However I still find myself feeling guilty when I haven’t got the time to do something I used to do, or that my kids would like me to do. I feel guilty when my husband does the ironing or goes to Tesco late at night because there is no food in the house. Why do I feel so frikin’ guilty? It’s no more my fault than his that we have no food, and 99% of the ironing is his shirts anyway!

My husband is a total love and said to me he loves that I work, and I quote ‘you have proper cojones‘ which is a total compliment but I’d like to point out he means metaphorically… ;) but still the guilt is there. I mean last year alone I have missed my Brother in Laws 40th birthday do, a family get together, had to organise my kids birthday parties around work weekends, finished the Christmas shopping with one day to spare and that’s just a few things.

But here’s the thing, we are our own worst enemies. I think guilt is about 2 things: fear and condemning ourselves which in itself about identity.

So, fear… what are we so afraid of? are we worried what people think of us if we don’t volunteer for the local community charity in our spare time? or whether our kids will turn out as delinquents because we didn’t make them home made organic humous? or that our marriage may fail because we’ve not cleaned the toilet for 3 weeks? Seriously what are we so afraid of? I’m not saying let’s ignore our kids but we survived eating additives and shed loads of sugar before humous was even an odour in the air of middle England didn’t we? We stayed out late playing in the road not giving our parents a spare thought before it was essential to spend “intentional family time together”; sometimes we just need a bit of perspective. And that is where identity comes in – we need to know, truly know, who we are. And that is we are all daughters of the king. THE king. We are adopted into his family, as we are, warts and all. And He just loves us…

1 John 4:16-18 says this:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

So, we are loved and we need not fear because we are filled with God’s love. As this says, fear is to do with punishment – interesting – are we punishing ourselves? for not being perfect?

The bible also says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). So if God does not condemn us, why do we condemn ourselves? For those of us in ministry, do we not feel called to this? Did we not feel an urge to do this, a calling we could not ignore? If God has called us to this then he is with us in it. He is the author of time (a fact I remind myself of daily!) we can trust him with all we have to do and know that he is in it.

So come on sisters! We are 21st Century women, let’s be strong, be confident, and let’s not fear, let’s not feel guilty. What the heck, spend intentional time with our family, eat organic humous, do the ironing if you want, and if not I dare you to put your feet up for at least half an hour, watch crap on the TV, eat cake and be ok with it! And in that let’s just recognise who we are and who God has made us to be…

 

The Blog Year in Review // 2016


Well another year draws to a close and I thought I’d look back at what’s appeared on the blog this year, so here’s a round up of the top ten posts of 2016 in terms of most viewed.

 

  1. Top Tips for Starting Vicar School – as quite a niche post I was rather surprised to see this at the top, with some advice for these entering ministerial training.
  2. Discernment Guide – less surprisingly though still quite niche, the guide was first published last year and in various chapters. It has advice for those going through the discernment process for selection to train for ministry in the Church of England (long winded sentence that one, rather like the process…).
  3. Dog Collar Dilemma – written in several parts, this was the first of them, looking at what it’s like wearing a dog collar as a woman.
  4. Chocolate Nativity Story – telling the nativity in Chocolate actually first appeared last Christmas but has obviously continued to be popular!
  5. Curate’s Journey  – a new part of the blog this year, with various posts on life as a new Curate.
  6. Inked – Are tattoos ok? why the heck not?!
  7. Becoming a Revd – It actually happened!
  8. Marriage Motherhood and Ministry – probably the first of many posts on a similar theme, balancing being a Mum in ministry.
  9. What’s your Vocation? – this was actually a round up of posts looking at vocation as part of the C of E’s month long focus on the theme in Feb.
  10. Being different and being relevant – ‘in the world, not of the world’ how can we play this out

Christmas as a Curate

I posted this on my Facebook page at the weekend after a long day…

and not because I wanted to be all martyr-ish but because despite it being a long day, I just genuinely love my job, it was an amazing day and I feel so privileged to be doing it. But a tweet from a friend:

‘Faceache is turning into a competition between clergy on how busy/tired/many carols sung…’

has made me think. What kind of vibe was I giving off in my status? because I wonder now if it wasn’t the opposite to what I wanted! (though Samantha has noted she thought I wasn’t moaning thankfully!)

And here’s the thing, the clergy life is fairly full, especially at this time of year, but that’s what we expect right? I mean, hello, Christmas is kinda important for the church, so I think we all knew that when we signed up (or were dragged into it by God…). It’s definitely not a ‘I only work on Sunday’ job – and note, please, I know it might seem funny but a little tip, please don’t make that joke to clergy, especially at this time of year, thank you muchly :)

Plus, of course as a new Curate I have no idea what I am doing most of the time which means, if I’m honest, a large degree of what is known professionally as ‘winging it’… I have found a big smile and a Christmas jumper can go a long way, and when all that fails the answer is always Prosecco…

And on top of that I am a wife and a Mum, as well as working a full time job, so the last minute requests for a costume 30 mins before the nativity, or a sudden desperate need to see a friend who lives an hour away, or an explosion of orange juice in the kitchen all have to be dealt with, so frankly us Clergy Mummies deserve a medal ;)

So yes it is busy (and I don’t like to use that word and there is a blog post coming on that…) with long days and a lot to get done. But it’s also absolutely wonderful. This morning I got to tell a room full of Mums and Dads, most of whom wouldn’t normally come to church, about Jesus at a school celebration. Last Sunday our church buildings were packed out all day for a series of nativities and carol services, again with loads of people who wouldn’t normally come to church. They were there because they wanted to be, because they wanted to experience something of what the church offers, plus I met so many people both from church and the wider community who I haven’t yet met. Tomorrow I get to visit a lady in her home with communion and I know I will come away feeling so blessed even though I am there to support her. And on Christmas morning I get to gather with hundreds of people who love Jesus too and we get to worship him together before I go home to a delicious roast cooked by my husband, and a lot of Prosecco…

And of course as much as there is to do, I am not the only working Mum in the world, nor the only Mum who will be working on Christmas Day, and I am so glad that I am able to say that I love what I do.

I really don’t think clergy work any harder than others that work at Christmas or with unsociable hours; for example the emergency services, NHS staff, carers and many more. In fact for many of those, it is just as much a vocation, a calling, something we just know we were made to do, to serve people. It can be tough and draining, and sometimes a sacrifice that takes us away from our loved ones, but it is also life giving and hugely rewarding. 

So… how about we all share some love around, it is the season of goodwill after all… (which is totally theological, not)…

Punters :

  1. Love your clergy! they are probably quite tired but they do love you, just tell them the sermon was lovely and don’t hang around after the Christmas morning service ;) 
  2. If you need a wee during midnight mass, please find the loo not a grave stone.
  3. Look out for those who you know are working Christmas Day. Send them a text on the day, take them a mince pie at work, drop round a plate of food, or just give them a hug!
  4. Know a single parent or a family who are both working full time? Offer to help – getting a Tesco order? you could add a few bits for them to save them going to the shops. Go round and help them wrap up pres (with Prosecco obvs…)

Clergy :

  1. Try not to moan about your job and how busy you are. Do what you can, leave what you can’t (and really there is a lot we can leave, we are not God and some things can truly wait) and enjoy the ride! Oh, and have Prosecco on ice…
  2. New Curate? get stuck in and don’t worry about making mistakes, people are (on the whole!) forgiving. Also you need to be able to smile for hours at a time and shake 6 hands simultaneously – get practising.

and have a wonderful Christmas wherever you are!