Taking Time Off

I hate being unwell – it is just such a waste of time! My last bout of wrestling with a cold, cough and throat infection has been so frustrating. There I was the other Sunday morning, coughing and spluttering my way through my sermon; and even then I failed to finish the course, because I had to ask one of my colleagues to preside at the Lord’s Supper while I went off home. The following week proved a ‘wash-out’; I tried to put in an hour or so each day, but exhausted myself in the process. Most of that week I rested and moped around as I tried to get better again.

While off work, I read an article, dated 6 December 2011, which began:

In this most wonderful time of the year, amid ‘much mistletoe-ing’, pastors who want to keep their own hearts ‘a-glowing’ should take a tip from the Duke Clergy Health Initiative. Be sure to take time off, both this holiday season and through the year. Your health could depend upon it, the Duke researchers say.

On reflection, I wonder whether my failure to take a proper break immediately after Christmas had something to do with my susceptibility to infection. The truth is that although I took off odd days, at no time did I take off two days completely for myself. True – after the Christmas morning service I had Christmas Day off; and then there was Boxing Day; but the need to entertain family those two days (there were eleven of us one day, and fifteen of us another day) inevitably proved stressful. Before the week was out there were hospital visits to make, e-mails to answer, thought to be given to a sermon series, a sermon to preach at the Watch Night service on New Year’s Eve, and then there was Sunday! With hindsight I should have been more disciplined and taken more time off. Perhaps like most ministers I should have taken off the Sunday after Christmas.

The reality, however, is that many ministers find it difficult to take time off. We are not helped in that unlike our members, we do not normally have a weekend break. Indeed, according to my terms of appointment, I have only one free day a week off – and even then it is not uncommon for families to pressurise me to give up that free day so that I can take the funeral of their loved one. True, I can take off a day in lieu, but that is not always easy. However, according to the researchers at Duke University, one day off a week is not sufficient for pastors to cope with the stresses and strains – ideally the body needs at least two consecutive days if it is to regain its balance. For the record I need to say that my leaders do encourage me to take off more than a day a week – and often I do. But the fact is that there is only one day a week which I can claim to be ‘mine’.

Fortunately, I am good at taking time off for holidays – unlike many American pastors. The Duke Clergy Health survey revealed that of the 1,671 pastors surveyed, on average pastors took slightly fewer than 12 days of vacation in the past year, while nearly a quarter had taken fewer than seven vacation days. Amazingly 6.2% had taken no vacation days that year. Thankfully the latter has never been my experience. Already I have two holidays booked – one week immediately after Easter, and two weeks in August. Roll on Easter, roll on August!

Published at 12 p.m.

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Who’s Paul Beasley-Murray?

Paul is the chairman of Ministry Today, as also the College of Baptist Ministers, and from 1993 – 2014 was Senior Minister of Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford. He can be contacted at paul@paulbeasleymurray.com.

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