There can be a significant difference between the time clergy are entitled to take off and how much they actually take. If you also work this can make it even more challenging to get a decent amount of time together. Clergy by no means have a monopoly on over working but they do seem to have become renowned for it. As someone who has never come anywhere near being a workaholic I find the issue fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. So here are some of my musings on why clergy families may struggle to find time together and potential things you can do to help.
1) Your clergy person has too much work. Some clergy have so much work they can only get it done by working very long hours. If they realise that they have too much work the first port of call is their Archdeacon, with whom they can discuss their workload. The challenge here is that they have to recognise there is a problem. There are not many congregations who will complain that their priest is working too hard – you may be the only one who will point out that they have taken on too much.
2) You have too much work. Many spouses are in jobs which are just as demanding as clergy roles. If you do shift work you have the added pressure of not being able to guarantee you will have your day off on the same day each week. This is where you have to make the most of the clergy person’s flexible schedule and fit in time together wherever you can. As usual the key thing is to plan ahead – if you don’t carve out the space it will be filled by work or chores.
3) The house is an office and a home. If your spouse is a parish priest they probably work from home. This can lead to blurry boundaries and makes it easy for clergy to work very long days. It also means that phone calls and visitors can interrupt at any time. Make the day-off well known so that people know not to contact you then. Treat the house phone as the office phone either by having a separate phone line for family use or just using your mobile, then you can happily ignore the office phone. If your clergy person finds this hard, unplug it. You may also have to help your clergy person differentiate between the urgent and the important; when they say they just need to make one more phone call before you sit down to watch a film it is fair enough to ask whether they actually need to do it right then (the answer will generally be no).
4) A clergy persons’ work is never done. In most clergy jobs there is enough work to fill every hour of the week. There is always more they could do which makes it hard to judge where to stop. Again, deciding on the time out beforehand is key, so that they are arranging things around the time off rather than the other way round.
5) You don’t get weekends. If you work a normal monday-friday job and/or you have children in school this can become a particular pressure. When do you get a whole day together? When I worked James took Saturday as his day-off so that we could have a whole day together. He sometimes moved it if he had to do a wedding but it generally worked well for us. Another option is to have Saturday as a light working day and to take off as much of it as possible. Sunday can also work well as a light day depending on how many services the church has.
6) They work for God. The God factor seems to particularly spur people into overworking. The work is seen as so important that it must come first at all times. It can also mean that you find it harder to ask them to take more time off to be with you; how do you compete with the Almighty? The irony being that God is all for time off, hence the Sabbath, and has no desire to see people overworking or CSs feeling neglected. I’ve found that sometimes you have to help your spouse get a little perspective on their work. When James didn’t want to take time off when he was sick I asked whether he thought he was indispensable to God’s work. The future of the Church does not hang on your clergy person even if you both feel like that sometimes. There will not be a disaster if they say no to some things. God will not be disappointed if they take the evening off. If your clergy person believes everything is in the hands of an all-powerful, all-loving God surely they, of all people, should feel free to relax?