3 months off!

In the Church of England the standard working week for clergy is 6 days, and nominally 48 hours a week. As an aside there’s a lot of wisdom in trying to get that down to five days a week where possible as even in my curacy I could easily clock up 30-32 hours in just 2 days some weeks with Sunday easily stretching to 16-18 hours – from getting up to prep for the early service to the time the young adults left our house and three services and various acts of hospitality, outreach, pastoral work etc in between. And that’s before I had much responsibility… but there were no complaints –  I absolutely loved it. 

After curacy I started working on Pioneer ministry – outreach to young adults in the night-time economy – so regularly finished at 3-4am, if my colleagues could keep me awake that long.

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If you're interested you can see a full warts and all analysis on the WPM legacy after I handed it over from one of the original funders: http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/sites/default/files/freshexpressionscasestudy-vitalise.pdf

Not long into that role we had our first child and with Nicola doing a curacy we juggled work and child care with about 15 hours of support because we both worked such different hours. Ella came to quite a lot of meetings too!

Three years of working till the small hours and being awakened – still in the small hours – by one or other of our children, and I took a strategic decision to work less and do family more while Nicola finished her curacy. I was briefly a full-time father, and then a few months in juggled that with a part-time role as as advisor to my previous employer, and a portfolio of fascinating voluntary work as a trustee/editor.

Then with a third child recently born we moved to London. Three children under four years of age, and a church not entirely sure if they needed a vicar or not! In the first few months only Ella had any child care (15 hours of  nursery place) and all in all life was pretty hectic. Nicola and I are both ARROW graduates (a CPAS leadership course that emphasises trying to grow in character as much as in competence) so we’ve tried to learn the lessons and work out where/how to do less and prioritise the children at key times like meals/bedtimes

Lots has happened in the past three years, and I now consider that I’m in my third job within a job – as the role has changed so much as at the church has gone through various developments and changes. Although we’ve been half asleep most of the past three years thanks to severe child induced sleep depravation God has been at work in our very obvious weakness. A full staff meeting now involves around 16 people, including four clergy, four assistant ministers, four p/t & f/t support staff and four/five unbelievably committed lay staff (wardens/readers/pastoral coordinator). We’ve completed a £300,000 restoration project, installed a soft play zone in the vestry, opened two new Sunday services including reopening a disused church. As a snapshot the Easter Sunday attendance this year across the services was roughly 100 adults bigger than three years ago, having grown each year in between.

Midweek we’ve opened  the existing church every day of the week so that we’re  now attracting 16,000+ visits a year, including toddler groups where local people queue round the block even in the cold/rain to try and get one of the 68 toddler places available for each session. The old church we’ve reopened is going to be an enormous enterprise to bring it back to life fully as a community, cultural and church centre open throughout the week For God, For the Community and For Each Other. It’s going to begin with a 24/7 prayer room in the old Ascension Chapel and the much needed roof repairs and heating installation, and looks like four more years of fundraising, vision casting and intense work, to get the job ultimately done.

So after each 10 years of 6 days a week working –  in exchange for 36 days holiday a year – the Church in her wisdom offers clergy a 3 month sabbatical to recharge. having watched plenty of burnt out clergy who never took theirs I jumped in at the earliest opportunity and am thoroughly looking forward to the time ahead.

So what’s the plan?

A slow week to start with then…

I’m planning a 142 mile pilgrimage from 14-21/23 May.

Then we’ve a family retreat at the wonderful Lee Abbey (North Devon).

Then I have about 6 weeks of dedicated study towards my DThM course which will be amazing to be able to focus on  (and may well mean more blog posts), and some quality time away camping with each of my kids in turn.

Finally, after our annual trip to New Wine a house exchange through EVEnet means we are able to go to California for three weeks, where I’ll bring back some first hand reports on the Bethel Church in addition to lots and lots of lovely tourism/enjoying the culture and weather and immense nature of N.California. We’ve managed to get two grants so far towards the costs of this and are hoping for more.

Why the pilgrimage?

About a week into the sabbatical I’m going to attempt  the closest thing to Chaucer’s Pilgrim’s Way still available – namely the St Swithun’s Path and the North Downs Way. Each section will be up to 20 miles long, with 2 contingency days depending on progress. For me this is basically about 1) a spiritual detox – mainly time on my own with myself and with God. 2) some exercise. 3) some wonderful views 4) chance to stop/walk a leg or two with a few friends.

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