Book Review: Reviving Advent, Reclaiming Christmas

Reviving Advent, Reclaiming Christmas by Ruth Grayson. Grove Books Ltd 2015

I have called this a book review but it would be more accurate to call it a booklet review. It is only 25 pages long but Ruth Grayson manages to give plenty of food for thought in this slim volume. Reading it made me realise how little thought I have given to Advent and that I have tended to see it as a countdown to Christmas rather than an important time of reflection in its own right. Grayson compares it with Lent and points out that there are many more resources to guide us through Lent than there are for Advent, which is ‘remarkable’ considering how important Christmas is in the church calendar. She suggests that this indicates a lack of time to spend in quiet reflection because the festive season is so busy, one of the problems she is keen for the church to tackle.

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Supporting your clergy spouse and family

Although this blog is aimed at CSs I am aware that people outside this group read my posts. So I decided to write something aimed not at those married to clergy but those who can have a huge impact on the lives of clergy and their families – the people in the pews. This is my call to all churchgoers: ask not what your clergy can do for you – ask what you can do for your clergy. The following suggestions are a mixture of my own and other CSs’ thoughts.

1. Pray for them

2. Respect time-off

So far we have been blessed in this regard and had congregations who have fully respected days-off and holiday time. However I know that some clergy families have a very different experience and find that the clergy person seems to be expected to be available 24/7, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. So here is my plea on behalf of all clergy, whether married or not: please do not contact them at the times they have indicated are their time-off. What may seem like a harmless 10 minute phone call for you is something which drags their thoughts back to work when they should be resting. Clergy and their families cannot function healthily if they do not get a proper break from church life. Continue reading

Surviving and Thriving: Time Off (Section 2)

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. Continue reading

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.