Holidays matter

This week we are going on holiday – all of us: Caroline and myself, Jonathan & Fiona and their three children, Timothy and Charlotte and their two children, Susannah and Rob and their two children, and Benjamin and his fiancée, Kathryn. For one week we will be all together in a large ‘manor’ house in the village of Wangford, not far from the Suffolk seaside resort of Southwold, where we have hired a beach hut. For Caroline and myself such a family holiday is a wonderful privilege.

Over the years holidays have been very important for us. Indeed, in my 50 ‘Lessons in life’ which I have listed in the first volume of Living Out the Call, ‘Holidays Matter’ is one of those lessons. But is it just a lesson in life? In the same volume, I listed 50 ‘Lessons in Ministry’. On reflection, I wonder whether ‘Holidays Matter’ should feature as a lesson in ministry?

This thought came to mind when I read Dear Nicholas, a superb little guide to ministry written by Michael Henshall, then Bishop of Warrington, to his son Nicholas on the occasion of his ordination – Nicholas is now the current Dean of Chelmsford, and a good friend of mine to boot. In the first chapter, entitled ‘Will It Keep Fresh’, Michael Henshall makes the following insightful comments on activism:

“You have heard my sermons over the years. You know that my exposition of the Doctrine of Justification by Perspiration always raises a polite Anglican titter. Demented activism is the reaction of deeply insecure priests to the signs of the times. We certainly live in a new Dark Age. We have to keep very fresh indeed if we are to void dark reactions to such a threatening scene. Oddly enough silence over-done, deserts over-sought, retreats over-indulged can all become an unhealthy response to the activist’s pressures at work. The blessed word ‘balance’ provides a solution. I speak, I think, from a former workaholic period. I learned my lesson when I learned to write into my diary – ‘Holidays’, ‘Spiritual discipline’, ‘Work’. If the order begins with work the other two fade away. Fix your holidays. Fix your spiritual framework. Then do your work around those two supportive pillars.”

“Fix your holidays” – here is a wise word to all ministers. Holidays for ministers are a priority and should come before everything else. Significantly I notice that the 2015 edition of Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy (in the Church of England) states that bishops should actively encourage clergy to take “their full holidays” (Section 14.9). In a British setting this means that ministers should take their full five-week entitlement!

For me, taking my holiday entitlement has always meant going away from home. Otherwise, before clergy know it, they are caught up in one ministerial emergency or another. Holidays are holidays. True, holidays away are always more expensive than staying at home – but I would argue that making holidays a priority involves not just the diary but also the household budget. Indeed, if a church really cared for its minister, then it might consider giving a holiday bonus every August!

The fact is that for ministers to fulfil their calling, they need to make holidays a priority – at the beginning of the year they need to tell the church the dates when they will be away, and then not to allow weddings, funerals, or any other church commitment to interfere with those dates. To keep spiritually fit – to be truly ‘fresh’ in God’s service, ministers need to take time to unwind. As the Greeks used to say, ‘The bow that is always bent (i.e. always stretched taut) will soon cease to shoot straight’. Or as we sometimes say: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Or to paraphrase the words of the Preacher: “There is a time for everything… A time to work, and a time not to work”. God does not want us to be workaholics. Busy pastors – for their own sake, for the sake of their families, and for the sake of their churches – need to ensure that regular holidays are built into their diaries.

How does this work out practically? I would suggest that every minister should take off a week after Christmas and a week off after Easter, and then unashamedly take off a further four weeks in the summer! Yes, I know that that technically that this is six weeks, rather than the allotted five – but the fact is that in the build-up to Christmas and Easter most pastors work over-time and as a result need to be compensated.

Holidays matter – they matter for fruitful ministry!

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