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Time Out!

By Author unknown.

Hedgehog

This time I just know I’m going to upset people. A storm of protest will come crashing into the editor’s mailbox. But if you’re looking for a way to upset people, I can’t think of many better ways to upset your church members or parishioners than by telling them that you can’t see them/take part in the church picnic/attend their wedding anniversary party, etc. because it’s your “Day Off”. And that’s what I want to talk about - that most sacred of institutions, the “Day Off”.

Most church leaders seem to have a day off. Indeed our Bishop ‘insists’ on us all doing so. The chosen day of the week varies with the rhythms of each individual leader’s life, but a day off seems almost mandatory.

It was a chance conversation which lit Hedgehog’s fuse on this subject. Talking to a friend, she told me she was looking for a new church to join. Naturally I enquired why so, when she used to attend her local church, a lively, rural congregation with a very gifted vicar. She explained that the aforesaid vicar had done something quite monumentally insensitive (it was - trust me!) which had upset her. She asked for a meeting with him. When she suggested a suitable date for the meeting, he replied, “Sorry, I can’t see you then - it’s my day off”.

Now it is just possible that some readers will think she overreacted at this point, but she retorted that, in that case, she wouldn’t attend church on Sunday in future, since that was her day off! Neither she nor her husband have been since.

And that set me thinking about the “Day Off”. As I said, most church leaders seem to have one, with the result that, for example, trying to arrange a clergy meeting in our diocese is a nightmare. Whichever day is suggested, someone can’t come because it’s their “Day Off”.

Now don’t get me wrong. I recognize the importance of R&R (rest and recreation). After all, the Sabbath principle is built into creation from the beginning. But is the fixed “Day Off” the best way to achieve it? Is it necessarily a good thing to identify a day in each week which we keep ‘religiously’ clear of all religious duties? Some would say an unhesitating ‘Yes’, but Hedgehog isn’t so sure.

For one thing, it leads us, unless we are very, very careful, into the kind of crass comment used by my friend’s vicar, to whom it clearly did not occur that he was adding rejection to rejection. In this case (as, I suspect, in many cases) the upset was compounded by the fact that the vicar regularly made space on his day off for a variety of church activities, but she was apparently not important enough to qualify! The result is an appearance of inconsistency which is far from helpful.

For another thing, it means that we are forced into a defensive position, defending that day against all comers. And should we by force of circumstance find that we must surrender our usual “Day Off”, how do we then claim another day without giving people the feeling that we are trying to have our cake and eat it? After all, they regularly give up their “Day Off” to attend, and even organize, church activities.

Even more destructive is the resentment that can build up in us against the very people who need our time, as we find ourselves locked in battle with them, defending our “Day Off” against their encroachments. This is especially the case with the people who phone on the “Day Off” and, before passing on some utterly trivial piece of information which could have waited until tomorrow, say “I know it’s your day off, but I thought you’d want to know that...”

Hedgehog has not had a fixed day off for many years. He tried it in the early days of ministry, but found it was just too stressful to keep one day free in each week, especially Saturday. Apart from anything else, pastoral/parish life is just not that neat and tidy. People need to be buried on any day from Monday to Friday, and married on Saturdays. Old people’s homes can often only offer us one day on which to come and do a service and schools can’t be expected to fit themselves around our diaries. Then there are denominational leaders who announce that they want to visit or want us to visit them and they can fit us in only next Thursday at 10.00am. Finally there are clergy meetings and Deanery Synods, all of which tend to vary which day they meet. And sometimes it’s really important to be present at such gatherings, so the “Day Off” has to be compromised again.

So Hedgehog abandoned the “Day Off” as being more stress than it was worth.

That’s not to say that Hedgehog doesn’t make space for his R&R. On the contrary, he makes darned sure that he gets enough of both. But he finds that the people to whom he ministers cope much better with a gentle refusal of a visit or a meeting on a particular day because “I’ve got something in my diary that day”, even if the unidentified ‘something’ is an intentionally blank space; or because “I already have a commitment at that time”, even if the mystery commitment is because you’ve got Cup Final tickets! I’ve even been known to make a joke of it with friends, excusing myself from some meeting or gathering on the grounds that “I’m on a course that day” - the course in question being, of course, a golf course! :)

Hedgehog is a pseudonym for a lovable but occasionally prickly person. If there is something you would like to sound off about, you could be Hedgehog in the next edition of this journal. The address for articles is on the back cover.

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You are reading Time Out! by Author unknown, part of Issue 27 of Ministry Today, published in February 2003.

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