While I was out today someone made the age-old joke about ministers only working one day a week. Now, the guy was an old chap, and it was genuinely a comment made in jest with no malicious intent, but for a moment, just a moment, I wanted to scream. I don’t know where this joke came from, but it’s certainly not based on any current reality of what it is to carry out full-time Church ministry. For me, today was a fairly light day, activity-wise, but it still involved the following:
This morning was mainly about sorting out Sunday’s worship at one of my chapels. While the format and liturgy is quite standard (I’m using the set order for Holy Communion for Easter from the Methodist Worship Book), I needed to confirm the readings from the Lectionary, look them up and also do some basic reading about them from my commentaries, decide which optional elements I wished to use, choose appropriate hymns (appropriate for the season, the congregation, the organist, the readings, the type of service, and their place in the liturgy), and then producing an appropriately formatted document so I can place it on my iPad. All-in-all a couple of hours work. On Palm Sunday, following a far more original and involved liturgy, including projection on top of everything else, one of my stewards asked how long I had spent preparing for what was an hour’s worship. He was rather surprised to find my estimate worked out at a full day, plus some further thinking time! So two hours is rather light – though I still have a sermon to write.
I also found time in the morning to read, and write, several emails, and interact with friends and colleagues via social media – as an extrovert who finds working alone in an office difficult this kind of interaction is vital, and I would be less productive without it rather than more so. Then came lunch, which I had out.
Not out at a cafe or restaurant with family or friends, but at the very popular monthly lunch club which one of my chapels runs. For many of the folk there it is chance for a good meal and a great chance to catch up with folk – in other words, for them it is lunch out. For me it is an opportunity to hear people’s stories – not just theirs but their families’ and their communities’. It is events like these that help us as a church live out our mission of loving service, and which allow me to be able to preach the gospel contextually. I do love these events, but they take effort – one needs to listen to people fully, but also make sure one makes it around various tables so as many folk as possible get to speak to you if they wish. I often have my main on one table, my desert on another, and then meander with my coffee, plus chat to the volunteers who cook, serve and wash-up by joining in with clearing tables as it gives me an excuse to go in the kitchen.
Once lunch was done, I found myself with 45 minutes of clear time, which I used to follow up an earlier email to a friend by phone and then spend time in personal prayer parked up at a local sailing club, looking out on the river and the moored sailing boats. Then it was off for a funeral visit. Understandably, the details of this remain confidential, but suffice to say it takes time, and is mentally and emotionally tiring. Having finished, I then filled the car with fuel before heading to one of my villages to visit a new coffee shop & art gallery – the coffee was pleasant, the cake delicious and plentiful, the artwork “interesting”, the owners and local waitress friendly and personable – we had a good conversation about festivals, including the village’s own one and my seeing U2 in my own backyard at Glasto. Again, while it seems nice time out, it was, as a friend pointed out, work – I was there as a local minister, visibly so, building community relations and a further opportunity for contextual mission.
Once home work wasn’t done. I had some further emails to do, plus some phone calls to make, and some admin, including the completion of marriage register returns. As usual, these were all nil returns as we haven’t had any weddings in any of my 6 chapels in the past quarter (there have been a handful in the past few years) but they are still a legal requirement, requiring correct completion by a very strict deadline. Having sat down at my desk at 9am this morning, I turned my computer back off at 9pm. And this was, I can assure you, a fairly light day.
No, this post is not a cry of “woe is me, look how hard I work!” Yes, I generally love this work that I have been called to, and I recognise that compared to many I am incredibly lucky in what I get to do. But it isn’t easy, and it most certainly isn’t a job I do just one day a week.
Whatever you do, however much of your time it takes up, travel well.