get a life

Let's examine this sour exchange from last week's Church Times (which seems to be my source of choice at the moment):

[background for non-CT readers {difficult to imagine, I know, but not everybody reads the Trumpet} : each week readers are invited to submit their tricky and esoteric questions on little-known aspects of church life. Other readers then reply with the benefit of their wisdom for the unenlightened.]

question: "Where, in the rules and terms of employment, does it state that the clergy are allowed only one day off per week, when the rest of the working world has a full weekend?"

answer: "I am astonished at just how out of touch the with the modern workplace the questioner is. Very few people working, as I have, on the minimum wage enjoy the luxury of two days off in seven. Stipendiary clergy have the luxury of predictable time off, if they choose to take it, and level of control over their working life which many other workers do not enjoy.." (etc etc, you get the idea)

The "answerer", by the way, is not an embittered church member who has suffered under years of torment from workshy vicars, but a fellow member of the clergy, a "revd" whose name I will not publish but was happy to attach it to his/her words in the paper.

Let us allow first of all, in the light of what I'm about to say, that our friend has a point. There are thousands of low-paid workers who have to work Sundays and other unsocial times in order to keep their jobs, especially in the retail trade which is such a vital part of our economy but where pay is horribly low. Feel for the call centre operators who drag in on Saturday mornings and stay till 9 pm on weekdays so that the rest of us can check our bank balance at a time that suits us.

But why does the reverend answerer think this is a good comparison for the working conditions of the clergy? Is the argument that the church should treat its ministers like a supermarket treats its cashiers? Or is it that anyone who enjoys tolerable working conditions should only do so if they are prepared to feel suitably guilty about it?

I feel for my fellow clergy. I see so many of them, mostly placed in unglamourous situations, working away cheerfully (or at least willingly), giving their working lives to the church, achieving remarkable things for God and his people in a quiet way. Most of them are unappreciated, in some cases roundly abused for their efforts, and they certainly aren't in it for the money or the home comforts. Government statistics tell us that the average week for a full-time worker is 39 hours, which puts our friend's assertion into perspective, and a figure which most of those vicars knock into a cocked hat on a weekly basis.

Sure, there are bad apples in the barrel. Some lazy, some not competent, some jaded and past caring. I don't know how many - let's just say more than we would like, and not as many as some think. But one kind of which there are definitely too many are the holier-than-thou, whose stock in trade is making their fellow clergy look small, always showing off about how much they do and about how seriously they take it all. Self-importance and taking the moral high ground are not attractive qualities in anyone, least of all in Christian ministers.

Our friend is right to say that clergy have a measure of control over their working lives, something which is both an opportunity and a danger. Wouldn't most congregations prefer to be served by someone who has their life in reasonable shape instead of one who is on the brink of going under? But sadly, too many vicars are in the latter group. We clergy would do a great deal of good if we stopped trying to make each other feel bad about how much we do, or don't do, and gave ourselves permission to get a life.


Anonymous said…
That's a very good point. I was astonished by the answer. It did seem to be suggesting that conditions should be as hard and unpleasant as possible. I'm not sure that's how the church should go about getting the best out of its ministers.
Anonymous said…
Frankly, I'd prefer holier-than-thou to busier-than-thou.
Anonymous said…
So have you written a letter to the CT? the answer this week didn't make me feel glorious

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