A week of vacation

When we accepted our first call to the ministry, there was some conversation about the amount of vacation time that we would be afforded. The standard at the time, as it is now, was four weeks of vacation each year. I hadn’t thought about it very much, but was encouraged by the Conference Minister that the amount of time was appropriate. That same Conference Minister had given similar advice to the churches who were seeking a new pastor. Their previous practice had been to shut down and simply not have church at all during the month of August. Since we were starting our ministry in July, it didn’t make any sense at all to me to simply stop having worship so early in our time of ministry. I understood that it was a farming community and that August is a very busy month for the farmers, but I also knew that harvest can be unpredictable and other months can be as busy. Also, many of the families were ranching families whose schedules were less dependent on grain harvest. We ended up working for an entire year before we took any vacation, and when we did take vacation, we made careful plans for worship to continue in our absence. The pattern was set in our relationship with those churches and continued for seven years until we were called to Idaho.

At the interview with our Idaho congregation, there was more substantive talk about vacation. Savvy urban employers who were members of the church knew that four weeks of vacation was uncommon and wondered at the expense for the church of having its primary employees absent for such an amount of the year. Having established the pattern of vacation in the previous call and knowing the stress that comes with the job, I was reluctant to give up any of that vacation time. I suggested that the committee consider the fact that when not on vacation I worked every weekend. How many of you would trade your weekends off for an additional two weeks of vacation? I also pointed out how seldom a minister even gets two days in a row off, let alone a three-day weekend, something that is common in other employments. We agreed to a schedule of one week’s vacation earned for each three months of service.

Moving into our current call, there once again was little talk of vacation. The search committee was quick to accept the same amount of vacation that my predecessors had taken.

Still, I find myself occasionally apologizing for the amount of vacation time I take. When our children were very young, we often took at least one week’s vacation in the winter and saved some for summer. When they were in school, we took most of our vacation in the summer. Now that we are officially empty nesters, we tend to take our vacation in several blocks. This year we took one week in the spring, two in the summer and are taking one week now. Regardless of the amount of time that we have taken, some members of the congregation notice that we have taken three vacations this year, something that very few working people are able to do.

While it is true that there are families in our congregation who have short amounts of time off for vacation, and who see four weeks of vacation as a luxury they might never afford, there are very few members of the congregation who consistently attend worship four weeks in a row. The majority of the members of our congregation who are regular and rarely miss worship are retired. I have been especially aware of this in the last couple of years as I have been singing with the choir. In the two months that our choir has been singing this fall, there are only a small number who have made every rehearsal and every Sunday’s anthem. We’ve had choir members in Alaska, on fishing trips to Montana, in Ireland, in California, New Mexico, and in half a dozen other cities in our state. There are several choir members who have had several unexplained and unexpected absences. It can be frustrating for the choir director to not know what kind of choir he will have every week.

It isn’t just the choir. We have no Sunday School teachers that have been present five weeks in a row. In fact we no longer recruit Sunday School teachers to serve as solo leaders. We have to double-recruit and have substitutes lined up on top in order to maintain a consistent program.

Of course just because people are not at church doesn’t mean that they are on vacation. There are lots of jobs that require working on Sundays. On the other hand, most of the patrol deputies in our Sheriff’s department, an organization that must be fully staffed every day of the year, work four ten-hour days each week and have three days off. Three days off each week! It is a luxury I cannot imagine. Actually, to be honest, I can’t imagine what it would be like to work only 40 hours a week. My life just isn’t hat way.

I don’t think that I am complaining. I’m mostly justifying to myself the simple fact that I’m on vacation this week. It is part of my routine for switching gears. I spend a few days worrying about the work that is left undone in my absence. I know I will be doing it when I return. I also know that some jobs simply won’t get done.

Still this time is very important to me. One of the things that I try to model for the people I serve is a healthy balance of Sabbath and work. I also try to model healthy family relationships. Having adult children and grandchildren is a relatively new venture for us, so we are feeling our way and learning the ropes. But I know I am eager to visit our daughter and son-in-law and will be excited to see them today. And I know that I need a break from the alarm clock and the pace of my usual work week.

I pray I can accept this week of vacation for what it is: a gift and a blessing.

Copyright (c) 2016 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!