"So Rev, you only work one day a week, eh?”
And that was my father-in-law. It’s a funny calling, being a minister. The majority of those who “see” me during the week end up seeing me on Sunday mornings—at worship. But just as only 10% of an iceberg is visible, and the remaining 90% is hidden beneath the waves – the same generally applies to being a minister.
So, let’s begin with Monday. Monday is usually my day off. But if there is a funeral pending, I will have to lay aside my household chores to prepare for that. This also goes for emergency visits to hospitals or homes for those who are close to heaven. Even if there isn’t a funeral, often I have to go out on Monday evenings for meetings that won’t fit anywhere else in a week. My monthly meetings for the Board of Directors of the House of Lazarus mission are on Monday evenings.
Tuesday tends to be the day when I catch up on visits that I heard about on Sunday. The Kemptville hospital also has its worship service on Tuesdays. So about once every six weeks I’m there. Thank goodness that Moira Anderson is there to play the organ as she has for almost 30 years. At every other nursing home service I play my guitar, but it is so nice at KDH to have someone else lead the music. On Tuesdays I also begin to mull over the bible readings for next Sunday’s sermon. There is a general formula that for every minute of sermon there is an hour of preparation – or is it that an ounce of sermon is worth a pound of bull …er, never mind. Tuesday almost always has an evening meeting – whether it’s for one of the boards of managers of one of my four churches, or a Joint Session meeting, or the monthly meeting of the Rideau Hill Camp Council.
Wednesday is catch up day—I have to get the worship service ready to be printed for Elaine, the church secretary. But now, since we have moved to having projection technology – I produce a worship bulletin, and I produce a power-point. It’s not that much more time consuming, but it’s another duty. I also do my reading of commentaries, internet resources and past sermons today. Books are the tools of my trade. A mechanic has thousands of dollars invested in her tools, a hair-stylist has the best scissors and brushes on the market. I have books. As George R. R. Martin’s character Tyrion Lannister from the Game of Thrones Books and TV show has said: “A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone”. Wednesday usually ends with a meeting at one church or another. And if I’m a very good little minister and have done all my work properly, that meeting might be at Heckston – and that means that Marg Mohr might have brought a homemade raspberry pie. Yep, it’s worth talking about how to pay for lightbulbs for ¾ of an hour just for a piece of that pie.
Now, when I say “meetings” I not only mean the usual church board (bored!) meetings. But also I visit couples preparing to be married and families wishing their child to be baptized. Because I don’t have an “office”—I usually meet these people in their homes. It gives me a chance to see how they live and what’s important to them. It also, I think, puts them at ease as it is their turf. Going to a minister’s office is like going to the principal’s office. Contrary to what popular culture tells you, I (and many ministers) do not provide “Counseling”. I am not a trained counselor, analyst, psychologist or social worker. So, while people know this, they often find it compelling to have someone who is not “official” anything to listen to them. And that’s what I do. I talk, sure; because, it is a dialogue. But the main skill that a minister needs is not the ability to talk, but to listen.
The monthly meeting of Seaway Valley Presbytery’s executive take place on Wednesday morning—which usually crams up my day. But that doesn’t mean much because Wednesday usually ends up being a late night as I try to finish the bulletin because the Church Secretary is in the Church office on Thursdays.
Ah … Thursdays. I usually open the door between the manse and the office for a bit and chat with Elaine for 10 or so minutes—to catch up with any news she might have. Most Thursdays have me flying out of the office as it is on Thursdays that I have to go to my monthly worship service at Dundas Manor. After I sing, pray and play with the Dundas Manor residents, and have had conversations with some of them who are members of our four churches, if there is anyone at the Winchester Hospital, I’ll stop by for a visit. Otherwise I’m either out to do some more visits, or I’m back to the manse for more office work: administrative work such as statistical forms, reports for higher church courts or more reading for the sermon.
The last Thursday of the month is also the day when Seaway Valley Presbytery (the regional gathering of the United Church) meets in a congregation somewhere in our area. This area stretches from the Quebec border to almost Brockville, at some points to the Ottawa River, but basically the rural area of Eastern Ontario. This is an eight-hour meeting at the very least, depending on the distance. Presbytery committees meet from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. Supper is 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and the plenary meeting follows until 9:00 p.m. or so. I am one of presbytery representative on the Board of the House of Lazarus, and on the Council of Rideau Hill Camp. I also convene the Pensions and Group Insurance “committee.”
This is the job that has landed me on the executive (ugg!) and is both a joy and a burden. It is technically a committee of one, me. I call upon some wonderful retired clergy (Revs. Ralph Taylor, Doug McKay and Paul Vavasour) to help me in planning and implementing our two luncheons throughout the year where we host the retired clergy and their families (as well as anyone who is on a UCC pension such as secretaries, widows and widowers, etc.).
Friday. This is the day that I write my sermon, finish up the power-point by adding videos, and do my follow up visits for the week. I write a full manuscript for my sermons. I know ministers who only write notes and ad lib. I can do that, but I have found that I get a bit wordy and can get very lost if I don’t keep to the script. To me, preaching is the best and most challenging part of ministry. Protestants believe that not only is the Bible the “Word of God” but the sermon is as well. This is not an ego trip for the minister, but a humbling fact that what I preach cannot just be my personal bugbears, but what Good News God has to say to this people on this day. It is a privilege to preach. And while I am pretty laid back and goofy in my preaching style, I take it very seriously. St. Paul wrote that we must preach Christ, and Him Crucified. So I try to remember that Jesus died for us so that we might live for him.
Saturday is a mushy day. Sometimes I get to do nothing at all on Saturdays (clean toilets, mow lawns, drive kids to dance and friends, the dad and husband stuff). But most weeks I’m either at Men’s Breakfast or at a UCW bazaar, or meeting a family for a funeral – I preside at between 30 to 40 funerals a year – which means that (aside from holidays and study leave) I have one funeral per work week – which is about an extra 20 hours or so added into the mix. And between May and October Friday nights and Saturday afternoons are spent getting ready for weddings: Friday rehearsals and Saturday weddings, and many weekends I have more than one wedding. Saturday night, before I go to bed, I read over my sermon so that if God needs to inspire me, I might dream about it.
Then it’s Sunday. The relentless return of the Sabbath. I’m up early on Sundays so that I can go over my sermon a number of times – reading it out loud so that my mind hears it as well as sees it. On the first and third Sundays of the month I’m at South Mountain UC (9:30 a.m.) and Heckston UC (11:00 a.m.); and on the second and fourth Sundays I am at Inkerman UC (9:30 a.m.) and Hallville UC (11:00 a.m.). Four churches: none of them less than five miles apart from another, but each so very different. I might have one sermon – but it is heard (and preached) four different ways.
At South Mountain, I spend my pre-service time chatting with the folks who show up to church early and then with the choir as we go over the choir anthem. At Inkerman, with no choir, I end up chatting with Tommy Allison or Keith Smith as we shoot the breeze about the week that was. It’s different for Heckston and Hallville. There, I have to fly into the church (depending at how long winded I was at the early service). But it’s afterwards that I get to greet everyone as they leave. Before she passed away, Nora Whaley (from Heckston) used to keep me occupied for at least three-quarters of an hour chatting about anything and everything – I remember wanting to get home to my lunch, but now that she is gone, I miss that time with her.
Hallville has a monthly “birthday lunch” which is a smashing success. People invite friends and relatives to church and we munch on sandwiches and birthday cake and usually aren’t home until 2:00. That’s just in time to catch the beginning of the second quarter of Football or the early hockey game – but I don’t usually watch too much: as soon as my legs are up on the la-z-boy, I’m snoring away. Unless, of course, it’s the second Sunday of the month – that’s when I have worship at Bayfield Manor in Kemptville. And Hallville has it’s bi-monthly Board of Managers meetings on Sundays after worship. Sundays are also the days when Youth group is held. I heard one person say, a long time ago, that with how busy life is they were willing to give Sunday to God and the church. And I try to honour that. Our families today are running all the time so “youth group” is less about pedagogy and more about Blair’s time with the younger members of our churches. That’s why it’s more nature walks and bowling than bible study and catechism.
So, that’s a bit of what the “Pastoral Round” is like for me. One of my mentors, a rural minister, once told me to pay attention to the farmers – and how they work. Some weeks and seasons (planting and harvest) a farmer can be out 100 hours a week. And sometimes during, say, the winter it’s “get the chores done and then get back in to the wood stove.”
That’s what my life is like as a minister. There are some times when all it seems like I’m doing is burying the people I hold so dear, then another, then another, then another. And then other times I can kick off my boots and join you by the woodstove and talk politics or prostate health.
And that’s why ministers usually chuckle when you say: Must be nice to only have to work one day a week.”