Front page news

A lead story today from the New York Times reminds us that “members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension, and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen.”

And how can we stop this downward trend? No definitive answer yet, but: “a growing number of health care experts and religious leaders have settled on one simple remedy that has long been a touchy subject with many clerics: taking more time off.”

Sounds about right to me. That’s the way many ministers are trained. I have minister friends whose internship supervisors insisted they work far more than 40 hours a week during their internships; one supervisor told her intern that the intern must work at least one 80 hour week “to know what it feels like”; that supervisor routinely worked 60+ hours a week.

And then there are the minister who rarely take Sundays off, who never use all their vacation time, and rarely take more than one day off in any given week. And now of course cell phones mean that clergy feel they should always be available, at any time of the day or night (there goes your sex life, I guess) — even though we all got along just fine in the days when there weren’t even any answering machines.

OK, so my bias is obvious (and I do take my vacations, and keep my hours below 50 hours a week). So what do you think?

8 thoughts on “Front page news

  1. Heather

    More recent seminary education, I believe, is trending toward teaching better boundaries and self-care. Trouble happens when congregations encounter clergy with different ideas about boundaries and self-care. An always-available minister makes life more difficult for one with firmer boundaries.

  2. UU Jester

    My internship supervisor told me on my first day, “Unless there is blood on the floor or the church is on fire, you work more than 45 hours in a week while an intern and you fail your internship.”

    At my my new settlement, I negotiated for a full year of service with my vacation and study leave spread out throughout the year. I negotiated for two days off a week (a sabbath day and a laundry day — also from my internship supervisor.) And I get one Sunday out of the pulpit a month.

    At my old settlement, I was putting in 50-60 hours a week, people hassled me when I took my time off, I got only one day off a week, and I worked many evenings for meetings. I also was sick quite often, gained ~25 lbs. over three years. I made very few new friends and my relationship my wife was suffering.

    At my new settlement, I’ve lost ~30 lbs. in the last 6 months. I’m sleeping better. I have half a dozen new friends. My relationship with Cheryl has deepened and is full of shared hobbies. While I’m not getting everything done I wanted to, my congregation is supportive of my having a happy, healthy, whole life.

  3. Jean

    Sounds similar to academia. Especially now that all of our courses — whether face to face or online — come with course websites that students and faculty can use to communicate 24/7. Or, in place of in addition, the everpresent emails back and forth. And there are still faculty who routinely give their home phone numbers to students. Which is a little nutty.

    And there still is a perception that teachers — or professors, if we must — “have summers off.” And that “sabbaticals are a waste of students’ money.” And that tenure is corrupt and unnecessary.

    Uh huh. You try living this life, o uniformed critic. And, by the way, getting the low pay to boot. No wonder academics, and clergy, are sick and tired.

  4. chutney

    I read somewhere recently that clergy who work less than 50 hours a week are 35% more likely to get fired. Not good.

  5. Dan

    Of course, most jobs are seeing similar trends. It’s not just academia, as Jean @ 3 tells us. The latest economic news from the Great Recession is that many companies have been turning profits since 2008 — but they’re not adding new jobs, they’re just working present employees harder. So that’s the cultural trend — a few people get rich while the rest of us work harder and get paid less. No reason why churches should treat their employees any different from any other sector in the economy.

    However, what’s clear in the Times article is that clergy are feeling it more than other employees. Part of this is due to clergy’s self-perception that they have to help everyone all the time (not unlike the professors Jean tells us about who give students home phone numbers, which is actually kinda creepy as well as overworking). So we clergy have to take some of the blame ourselves.

    But also, look what UU Jester says above — a former employer who looked askance at him when he took vacation time. That’s sick.

  6. Amy

    I remember hearing a lot of older colleagues saying how important it was to take your day off every week. Well-trained in self-care in my 1990s seminary/CPE education, I was appalled. Where I come from, people get TWO days off every week. It’s bad enough that we so seldom get to take two days together, and that our job schedules are usually so out of sync with those of our partners, children, and friends.

    In UU churches, there’s a strong precedent for generous vacation, study leave, and sabbatical, which IMO make up for the above, but they only work if you use them.

  7. cUrioUs gUUrl

    This is the case in every job. If it is your whole life, your whole identity, which it essentially becomes if you’re there more than 45 hours a week, you will burn out. You will no longer being giving 100%. Not only that, but you’ll come to hate your job. You’ll go on autopilot. It is far more important to me that my pastor is there, in the moment with me, than available to me 24/7/365.

    As a committee chair, I can sometimes get frustrated if I don’t get responses to questions from my minister as quickly as I feel I need them. And when that happens, I remind myself there are dozens of other committee chairs bombarding him as well, all the time. And people in crisis who need his attention. And denominational calls on his time, etc. And it’s one of the reasons that I was behind the Standing Committee when they lobbied for an additional minister. And why I increased my pledge, to help pay for that additional minister. So that our Senior Minister wouldn’t burn out. So that when I’m talking to him, he’s there, in the moment with me, and not thinking about 20 other committees or so burned out, he’s got nothing to give.

  8. kim

    I wish we, all of us, would refuse to put up with the situation Dan describes wherein companies are not hiring, just working people harder, knowing they don’t dare refuse because the job market is so bad. This is what the whole Union movement tried to stop — and did for a while, but now we are backsliding. It’s time to reinvigorate the Unions, and get our 40 hour work week back. France has gone to 35 hours. If we shortened the work week, there would be more jobs. If we lowered the retirement age, there would be more jobs. What are they thinking???? Even without this recession we would be needing new sources of jobs, because automation has reduced the number of people necessary for many jobs.

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