Surviving and Thriving: Time off (section 1)

I have not done a post for a while as (very appropriately considering this post’s topic) we have been away and had family visiting. I have also been having a fun time going on to all the diocesan websites and seeking out their clergy handbooks, which I hope demonstrates my dedication to the CS cause. I now know more about diocesan policies on annual leave than is healthy but I wanted to get a clear picture of what the actual guidelines are, as moving dioceses made me realise that each area does things a bit differently. There is much to be said about how time off and clergy workloads affect clergy spouses, so I will do a couple of posts sharing my experiences.

The take home message I got from reading the handbooks is that the guidelines do allow for a decent amount of time off. The baseline minimum for all clergy seems to be:

  • 36 days a year
  • bank holidays (or time in lieu if the bank holiday is a work day)
  • 24hrs off each week

These are the basic entitlements for clergy in common tenure positions. As I understand it (please correct me if I’m wrong) those with freehold are not ‘entitled’ to this time but are encouraged to have the same amount of leave. In addition to the structured time off, most dioceses have extra guidelines. These can be found in your diocesan clergy handbook which outline policies on time off, along with lots of other information, so they are worth a read for you as well as your spouse. I will put up a separate post with links to all the handbooks (except for the odd one I couldn’t find) so that you can locate them easily if you don’t have a hard copy/want to look at what a potential future diocese does.

Most handbooks give advice on how clergy can look after themselves, and their family, whilst working 6 days a week. They encourage clergy to use the flexibility of their hours to the best of their advantage. Suggestions are:

  • Where the morning, afternoon and evening are each a ”session” try to work only 2 out of 3 sessions each day
  • If you do too many days working all 3 sessions, take a day/part of a day off elsewhere in the week
  • Have a light day per week
  • Aim for a 48-50hr working week
  • Ensure you have time each day for yourself
  • Take time in the working week to do family things/household tasks etc

If you and your clergy person use this time well it can make life much more manageable and fun. Some clergy keep the same time each day free. This means that others learn not to expect them to be available at this time. Or you can keep things flexible – we do this at the moment as our baby is not in a reliable schedule. The danger of this is that if you don’t have a set time it is easy to fill the whole day with work. To protect against this we have a set of aims: for James to spend at least 30mins with us during the day, for him to do baby bath time at least once a week and to have a significant chunk of time with the baby each week (separate from the day off). He is also very strict about using time in the week to do chores, tasks etc so that the day off really is a day off and not spent catching up on non-work related things. We’ve found you have to put thought and intention into finding a balance, to sit down and agree on what is reasonable. By writing down our aims we can easily see if they are not being met.

Of course this is all easier said than done. There are aspects of the clergy life, and life in general, which can make it a challenge to get enough time together. In my next post I will look at these difficulties and potential ways of dealing with them.

Book Review: How the Other Half Lives

How the other half lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners by Johnna Fredrickson and William A. Smith. The Pilgrim Press, 2010.

I read this book a couple of years ago and had somehow forgotten how good it is. Fredrickson is a clergy spouse and Christian educator, Smith is a marriage and family therapist; both are American but most of the book is equally applicable in a British context and across denominations. The two have teamed up to create a resource which primarily focuses on the CS and the marriage and how both can be sustained through the challenges faced by clergy couples. It is for both male and female spouses and aims to be accessible to all CSs, regardless of their level of involvement in the ordained person’s ministry.  It is a very thoughtful book which digs deep into the complexities of the challenges. It does not shy away from the difficulties but discusses positive options for finding a way to cope with them. Rather than presenting one-size-fits-all solutions, it looks at various ways couples can tackle things, depending on their own situation and needs. I found it to have good practical advice and strong theological grounding. Even if the theology is not for you, or you are of a different faith, there are chapters which will be informative and thought provoking. Continue reading

Church Times column on curacies

A friend pointed me to this column by Matthew Caminer in Church Times (7 February). If you have a subscription you can read it online here: or find it on page 16 of a paper copy . Matthew is a management consultant, CS and author of A Clergy Husband’s Survival Guide.

I think CS’s and their clergy partners approaching the curacy might find it interesting reading. He argues that the CofE’s approach to new clergy is, ‘bureaucratic, rigid and out of date’ and no longer fit for purpose considering the demographic of people going forward for ordination. He also thinks that pastoral support at a diocesan level has become ‘diluted’ so that some curates, their families and training incumbents, lack the pastoral oversight and support needed. He talks about other issues as well and outlines a five-point plan for improving curacies, but these two points particularly resonated with me. Working in a secular setting during the curacy, it worried me that, both in terms of organisation and pastoral care, my workplace was setting a better example than the Church. I wish I had been aware that there would not be proactive pastoral support for us as a family. It would also have been handy to have had forewarning about the strange way things can be run in this institution. I hope that Matthew’s ideas will inspire Church leaders so that, as he says, ‘the shepherds are nurtured, and their families, too.’

How I wish I had prepared for the curacy

When I say how I wish I had prepared, what I really mean is that I wish I had prepared at all. We were in a parish 8 miles from where we went to university, how different could it be? Turns out ex-mining villages are a whole world away from prosperous university towns. Yes, I really was that naive.

I also wasn’t really aware of the likely challenges of being a clergy spouse (CS). The only thing people had really mentioned was that you might be expected to help run the parish. James’ boss had firmly reassured me that I would not be expected to be an extra pair of hands, so I was feeling optimistic; this is the 21st century after all, surely being married to a curate would not have the same impact on my life as it once would have. Again, yes, I was really was that clueless.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that if you’re moving somewhere completely different, and entering a new, alien role, you don’t know what you don’t know. How do you prepare for the unknown? As I have mentioned I was fairly clueless and some friends have kindly pointed out that common sense is not my biggest strength. So if the things I am about to talk about are outstandingly obvious to you, I apologise, but I hope they may be helpful for any fellow clueless folk out there. This is what I would do if I had my time again:

1) Do some research on the area. Find out as much as you can before you get there about the place and the people. If the incumbent who will be overseeing your spouse has a husband/wife they are likely to be a good person to chat to. You’ll only begin to get a sense of the culture but it gives you a head start.

2) Get a feel for what the church is like. I was once told that another CS on starting in a curacy had said, ‘No one tells you that you may end up at a church you would never have chosen to attend.’ If you know beforehand that this is the case it may soften the blow. It will also give you time to investigate other spiritual support networks available to you. When we started at our church there were no Bible study groups, which I really missed; if I had been more proactive I might have been able to find a group to join elsewhere.

3) Encourage/order your spouse to get an idea of their work schedule. I had no idea what James’ schedule would be like and struggled at first with how many evenings I was on my own. Going in with a realistic picture of how much they will be out at least helps you prepare (and gives you time to stockpile all the DVDs they never want to watch, so you can make the most of their absence). Once you know what the hours will be like you can discuss how you will carve out time as a family. Doing this from the start lets you set a firm boundary and stops your clergy person from taking on commitments which encroach on family time.

4) Get an idea of how much your house will be used for church business. It helps to have this agreed beforehand so that everyone has the same expectations. It is much easier to set boundaries at the outset than to try and change things once you’ve opened your doors to an event. If you know that meetings will be in the house, when you move in you can set up another room as a comfy space for yourself.

5) Plan in visits with friends and family. If you know you are going to really miss home book in your next visit there so you have that to look forwards to. I found my homesickness was worse when I had no idea when I would next see my family. Prioritise the travel costs in your budget and accept that you may have to visit on your own – the combination of distance and our work schedules meant that we often visited our families without each other.

6) Discuss beforehand how you will deal with chores. Clergy have very busy schedules. This can mean they have little time for household tasks. If either of you is a clean freak this can cause some tension. I remember the first argument James and I had when we were dating: it was about western interference/interventions in less developed countries. Such heady days of idealism! Once we were married we argued about cleaning. In fact we still do. Despite this, I do think it would have helped if we had talked about how we would manage chores before the curacy started.

7) Identify where your support will come from. As far as I know there is no official CofE system for supporting CS’s (I’d be interested to hear if other denominations have anything?). As is the CofE way, each diocese does things differently. Your best source of knowledge on what happens in your area is a CS already in the diocese. If this sort of support is lacking or not your scene think about where your support will come from. Your other half will not be enough!

8) Speak to CS’s about what to expect. Only fellow CS’s know what you are about to face. As the curacy comes with unique challenges it is particularly useful to chat to someone who is either a couple of years ahead of you or has recently left a curacy.

I’m sure there are many more things I could have done to prepare myself, but these 8 were the first to spring to mind. What are your top tips for starting out in curacy life?