Working from home

For the first five years of our married life, we were both full-time students. We shared the same typewriter and often the same books and learned to work in small apartments with a small desk. For students the distinction between home and work is different from those who have other jobs. Because reading is such a big part of the life of a student, most students find themselves reading at home, in the classroom, in the library, and in lots of other locations.

Our first call to full-time pastoral ministry was from two congregations in North Dakota. The congregations had worked together for years before they called us and the system worked very well. The larger congregation owned a lovely home next door to their church building and offered it as a parsonage. They paid the costs of maintaining the house and the utilities on the house. The cash salary, health insurance and retirement were split between the two churches. In those days they were able to offer a fair starting salary for a full-time minister. Neither church building had an office. The church office was located in the parsonage, which had a back door entrance from which a visitor could go directly into the office. When we moved there, we had no children, and almost no furniture, so the arrangement worked well for us. Much of our work didn’t have anything to do with an office - we visited church members in their homes, workplaces and hospitals. The congregations were small. We wee able to visit nearly every member every year. Those in nursing homes were visited at least once a month, often more often. Those in hospital were visited every day if they were hospitalized in town. If they were hospitalized out of town, they would be 150 miles or more away and were visited less often.

For the first 17 years of our career, we job shared. We had a single full-time job between us. Part-time work in the church is difficult to measure, and we never tracked hours, but we did pursue other things outside of our church employment. I was a radio DJ, a school bus driver, and a free-lance writer on the side. Susan also did professional writing for other employers than the congregations we served. When children came into our lives, we tried to share homemaking and child-rearing equally, though there were times when the time distribution wasn’t equal.

For all of our lives, we have had some type of study or library in each home we have occupied. Working from home is something we have always done. So the onset of a pandemic and the restrictions imposed to slow the spread of illness haven’t resulted in any radical lifestyle changes for us. News and social media are full of stories of the pressures of working from home, the difficulty of balancing family and work and other issues, which seem to us to be not really big issues. We struggled with time management and balance between family and work. In a sense our children were always inserted into our work life. For example, an infant or a toddler is a wonderful person to take with you to visit in nursing homes. Our children were also campers when we counseled at church camp. We have always attended church as a family even if we rarely sat together.

In a strange twist, I am actually spending more time at the office at the church during these days than I did before the pandemic altered our work schedules. With two administrative colleagues who are working from home, there is no one else to answer the phones and deal with certain work tasks. Even though walk-in traffic to the church is much less, there are still church members who stop by the church to perform tasks, pick up items and sometimes just to talk. We have interactions with church members in the church nearly every day. I also made some decisions in regards to how to maintain communications and manage social media that made certain tasks easier to do at the office than they are at home. The discipline of daily prayer has been something I’ve done from home for most of my life, but now I am practicing that discipline from the church office so that the backgrounds for my live casts are familiar places in the church.

One of the treasures of the work we do that can also be a challenge is that there are few distinctions between work and home. A certain portion of every job is thinking and you can’t always put a location on where you will be thinking. There are some jobs that you can leave behind. When I drove school bus, I didn’t spend much time thinking about driving when I wasn’t in the bus. Bus trips were all scheduled, so I didn’t have to be “on call” except for occasions where I would cover for another driver who became ill. The ministry is a different kind of job. While there are challenges in finding balance and learning to make sure that there is adequate time and space for family life, there are great advantages to this type of job. The first is that I have always had flexibility in my schedule. I can choose when to do many of the tasks of my job. That meant that I was available to attend school programs and functions during the day. I could leave the office to volunteer in a child’s classroom. If I had a really late night sitting with someone in the hospital, I might be able to sneak in a nap the next day. We were able to have family meals together. Importantly, our children were a part of our work life. They know what we do for a living and how our work supports our family.

I hope and pray that those who were forced to suddenly adapt to working from home will begin to discover some of the advantages and treasures of the practice. There are real challenges and new skills that need learning, but there are also very real pleasures to working from home. May those who are new to working from home discover those pleasures in the weeks to come.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!