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.