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?


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!

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!


The Curate’s Journey begins…

a good one to remember at this point!

Well to be fair it actually started about 6 years ago when God called me into this crazy nonsense that is Ministry in the Church of England. Some may baulk at the word nonsense and of course there is a tongue firmly stuck in my cheek when I say that, but if you’ve read my Guide to the Discernment Process you will know that sometimes it’s all just a bit bonkers. But for me, I’m approaching the end of that crazy process as in just 6 months time I will be ordained. The ‘O’ word has been looming and I can’t quite believe I’ve got to this stage, but as with discernment I wanted to blog about it all, because I know from experience there are others going through it all and feeling a bit like ‘what is this?’ so a new part of the blog is starting here: The Curate’s Journey. Now it might be a little thin on the ground post-wise in the next few months as I don’t start my curacy until the end of June but there is plenty of build up to write about so it starts here!

And of course I haven’t even written about how you find a curacy. It was so hush hush I wasn’t allowed to say anything for ages! So, how does the whole process of finding a curacy work? Well I don’t know about all the dioceses but down here in Chichester, it works a bit like this…

In spring of the year preceding ordination – so if training part time this will probably be the 2nd year of study, or, if full time (unless mixed mode) the first year – now that is scary! (means you’ve only been in training for about 6 months before you have to think about your first post), then your diocese will be in touch with you and ask you to fill in form Appendix B. Yes, yes imaginatively titled I know, but I’m not sure we can’t expect much more from the CofE. Appendix B is about as exciting as it sounds, one might hope for a list of deep and searching questions aiming to get a clear picture of you and what you might offer any potential church, but sadly not. No, there are very few options to express a personality, those that do are tick boxes asking you to clarify what kind of ministry you are training for, which style of churchmanship you might best minister in, what type of area you might want to go to (e.g: urban, rural etc) although even these are rather vague, I mean what even is ‘semi-rural’ or a ‘country town’ – I’m not sure we’d all agree on those so how do you know what to tick?! So as you can see not much chance to express an opinion. Then you are pretty much at the hands of the diocese, trying to match you up with a church where you might both be able to work together in beautiful harmony and friendship, (ahem) or more likely just to able to get on for 3 (or 4) years and not to do any lasting damage.

So, for me having filled in this form it was some months (from memory I think about 4) before I heard anything at all from the diocese. At this point I received an email from my DDO in which the training incumbent of my potential curacy (aka: title post) was copied in and we were asked to meet each other to discuss the possibility further.

KVM_trustThis was relatively straight forward. I met him and another member of staff, we chatted in detail, we got on, both agreed to think and pray about it and talk a week later. We both agreed we wanted to go ahead and then passed that on to the diocese to formalise it. Easy peasy. However this is not the case for everyone and I know of several ordinands who have not yet been placed. This happens for various reasons: not enough curacies available, they can’t match you up with a suitable place, or some agreed curacies then change last minute if the incumbent (i.e. person in charge of where you are going : The Vicar) is ill or gets a job elsewhere, or just changes their mind – has been known. The thing is whilst we are of course at the mercy of God in this whole process, and the word: TRUST looms like a beacon over your life for some years, we are also at the mercy of the powers that be: The Church of England (and it’s not unheard of to wonder sometimes if they are more powerful than God…). They literally hold your life in their hands and it can feel very disconcerting, especially if the process of finding a ‘title post’ does not go smoothly, and whilst I shall not go into it all here I have heard of more than one case where frankly you wonder whether they actually care at all or have any touch with the reality of family life. But enough on that. Look it can be tough, really tough, and let’s face it if you haven’t got a thick skin yet you are going to need one.

Of course, I did talk to my husband too and whilst the job looked perfect we also weighed up what it meant for him and for our kids. They usually send you a parish profile with plenty of info about the church and area, including what housing you can expect so there is a bit of info to help you decide. We were fortunate that we knew the town we are going to, but if you don’t, do some homework before jumping right in! Google is your friend…

Now then, if for whatever reason you do not get ‘placed’ then you will probably be released from your diocese – which means they give up on finding you a job (sort of) and then you can look elsewhere. This can actually work very well as the constraints put on you by having been in the same diocese for years are then gone, you get a chance to actually look around, speak to other dioceses and see what is available. So it’s definitely not the end of the world. In fact some people I know have actively sought to do this for personal reasons, e.g: family, work etc and have then gone on to find postings elsewhere successfully.  Life’s circumstances do change and the church is aware of that and can make provision for it.

So for me then, the curacy was all finalised in September last year and announced in October, although it was frustrating having to wait to tell people! The usual form is that you don’t publicise it until it is formally announced. Frustrating as that may be, it is not without reason, and allows both the sending parish and the receiving parish to let people know at the same time, avoiding any of those awkward conversations, which may sound silly but my own Mum attends craft fairs at one of the churches in the parish I am going to, so you can just imagine her saying to someone ‘oh did you know my daughter is coming to work here’ before anyone had officially heard. However it is usual for people do tell those closest to them rather than wait months and my mother was sworn to secrecy! 

Then basically nothing much happens for months on end. It seems very strange to have it all worked out, to know exactly where you are going and everyone knows that and then you just carry on with life for the next, in some cases, if you have it sorted early, year! I have lost count of the number of times people have said to me ‘so, when are you moving?’ in an almost bored tone, and to be fair to them, I think in some senses we prepare ourselves for change and then stop. So it is a bit of a strange time really. For me I have chosen to try not to think about where I am going at all, I know what I’m like and I would get all excited and want to plan and do things, when actually I have a job I love, a home I love and we are settled here, for the time being. For others you may need that time to prepare, to plan etc so it can be useful.

Now I find suddenly in January of the year of my ordination things are starting to happen and that will be the next post as this one is long enough as it is. 

I would love to hear from others who’ve been through this recently, if anyone wants to share their experiences? I know it can differ across the country, and if this is going to be a helpful resource like the discernment guide, then I could do with some more input, so do get in touch.


PS: if you didn’t know, I shall be off to ‘Trinity’ in Lewes, which comprises 3 churches in the town, and we are really looking forward to it :)