How do you “frame” your weekly day off from ministry?

By Rebecca McLean, Wellbeing and Development Officer, Parishes and Other Mission Agencies Commission

I recently spoke to a clergyperson in our Diocese who is the parish priest of a thriving church and who is known for being incredibly capable, organised, calm and focused. So it really struck me when he shared how difficult he was finding balancing ministry and other aspects of his life. He said that it felt nearly impossible to find enough time to balance his wellbeing needs and meet the expectations of his congregation and the broader Church. I’ve had many similar conversations with clergy since I commenced in my role of Wellbeing and Development Officer a year ago.

A common emerging theme in these chats is that clergy feel that the demands on their time exceed the number of hours in a day, but that being disciplined about their weekly day off is essential to their wellbeing. What I’ve subsequently discovered is that clergy conceive their day off in different ways – in ways that are uniquely authentic and nourishing.

Another common emerging theme in these conversations is how connected people feel to their vocation. Clergy often tell me that while the demand on their schedule and personal resources seems “bonkers” at times they wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

What impresses me most about our clergy is their resilience; genuine desire to care for people; willingness to make a difference; and, commitment to their faith and vocation.

The excellent Church of England resource ‘How Clergy Thrive: Insights from Living Ministry’ quotes a minister saying:

“Initially the calling to do this was very, very strong and confirmed by various sources…when times get hard I can always go back to that story and go yes, I’m supposed to be doing this.”

Because of their strong sense of purpose and commitment to their vocation, our clergy dedicate their mind, heart, body and soul to their ministries.

Given this strong sense of calling, it’s no surprise that our clergy often find themselves scraping the bottom of the barrel of their emotional and physical reserves.

So how do our clergy effectively balance their strong sense of connection to their calling with their very human needs for personal time and self-care?

One of the creative ways that our clergy seek to find this balance is in how they “frame” their weekly day off, so they keep to the discipline of taking regular time out.

For some, their approach is very systemised. For example, I recently received an out-of-office auto-reply from a Brisbane-based clergyperson whose email clearly articulated that she was offline that day recharging. The email went on to explain that she would reply upon her return to work and listed her ministry days. I thought this was a very simple and effective way of managing expectations while ensuring that the sender knew that the email had been received and would be followed up upon her return.

Another parish priest in a busy coastal town calls her regular day off each week “sacred”, which frames this day in Godly terms. In doing so, she acknowledges her intrinsic worth and her own need for God. I am struck by the wisdom and humility in her approach.

A priest from a regional area of our Diocese coordinates his weekly day off with that of his whole ministry team, with all team members taking the same day off each week. Not only does this approach prevent the interruption of calls and emails between team members, their collective day off is known by their congregation members, which helps to manage availability expectations.

For another Brisbane-based priest who has grown-up children, his day off is exclusively about him and his wife. On the same day each week, they hike, or run or head to the beach together. Because he wears so many hats in his role, he intentionally leaves his phone at home on his day off so he can focus on, and enjoy time with, his wife. For this priest, making a weekly commitment to spend a day exercising outdoors with his wife helps him to prioritise his relationship and their collective emotional and physical wellbeing.

I was reading in anglican focus recently about how The Rev’d Sue Grimmett from The Parish of Indooroopilly perceives her day off. She describes how she starts her ministry days with reading over a cuppa before Morning Prayer because her “dedicated reading time leaves me with a sense of a spacious beginning to my day”. She also aims to walk her dog daily, with longer hikes on her day off, because she finds being in nature restorative. She then says:

“As well as these regular rituals, I find that wellbeing comes from the way I embody the time in my work – rather than how I best manage my time off. When I am doing it ‘right’, my time out feels like it is part of the flow of my role as a priest.”

So for Sue, her “day off” is constructed as part of her ongoing rhythm rather than as time carved out.

What I have learnt from these different approaches is that how people “frame” their day off is quite pivotal to how effectively they create space for themselves in the busyness of ministry.

Whether clergy frame their day off as essential recharging time and communicating this need through systems; by defining it as “sacred”; by approaching it as a coordinated team effort; by making it about a commitment to a loved one; by seeing it as part of the broader ministry flow; or in another way, if clergy can give themselves “permission” to take a regular weekly day off, then their emotional and physical wellbeing will thank them for it.

How do you “frame” your weekly day off from ministry – I’d love to hear about your unique approach?

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