Time and work

At the church where we are serving as Interim Ministers of Faith Formation there is a system of electronic time cards. Each employee has a spreadsheet with a page for each pay period. On that spreadsheet hourly employees record the number of hours worked each day. Those of us who are not paid by the hour use the same spreadsheets to indicate which days we have worked and which we have taken as vacation or sick leave. The spreadsheets are marked with the days that are holidays shared by all employees.

We are exempt employees, which means that we are paid a monthly salary and are not paid by the hour. Our time sheets function to show which days are taken as vacation and sick leave. In our case, since Susan and I each work half time, a week’s vacation is considered to be 20 hours off from work, with a day off constituting four hours.

I’m not explaining the system well, which isn’t important - at least it isn’t important for readers of my journal to understand the system. It works for the church and the church has been fair in its compensation of us. Since I work part time, it has been easy for me to make sure that my work is done when I have needed to take a day off from week. When we have taken vacation days, as was the case when we were full-time pastors, we have arranged for the life of the congregation to continue in our absence, which sometimes means accomplishing tasks before and after the vacation to make sure that the work is done.

I have worked at hourly jobs a few times in my life, mostly during my student years, I have kept time cards accurately and reported the hours when I have ben working. I find, however, that the arrangement of a salary for accomplishing the work without keeping track of hours fits the way that I think about time more accurately than a time card.

In a job such as serving a congregation, it is difficult to know when one is working and when one is not. We go into the office three days a week most weeks in our current position. However, there are weeks when we need to be at the church more days. There have been a few weeks when we have had to go into the church six or seven days. And we are sometimes working when we are not at the church. We do a lot of job planning at home. We talk about how to accomplish tasks and make plans as we walk. Sometimes we consider church work over dinner. Most weeks, I host one or two Zoom meetings from home. I prefer not to have rigid boundaries between work and home life. Some of my best ideas for sermons and other worship elements have come when I was in the shower or mowing the grass. Conversely, some of the solutions to problems of home repair have come from ideas I had while sitting at my desk at the church.

The way I think about it is that ministry is a matter of identity. It is who I am as much as what I do. Ministry is often presence with another person. When I am visiting with a grieving family or planning a wedding with a couple, I am not paying attention to the time. Some things take more time than others. Some things require that I not be a slave to a clock. I honestly do not know how much time it takes to craft a sermon. I do know that a good minister will invest as much time as it takes. I also know that some weeks it takes more time than others. I also know that a minister will never accomplish all of the tasks that could be accomplished. I have often said that part of the art of ministry is learning to go home with undone work. There is always something more that I could be doing.

I think in terms of work that needs to be accomplished and not in terms of the number of minutes or hours that “belong” to my employer. A work supervisor who wants to micromanage every minute of the time of those under their supervision might choose to track how many hours I spend inside the church building, but I know that much of the work of the pastor occurs in other locations. I also know that my mind wanders sometimes when I am physically in the church. I’ve even been known to make a personal call from my church office. I do think, however, that the work I accomplish exceeds expectations. Frankly, I have always been a good value for those who pay my wages.

I don’t think in terms of how many hours I work. I’m sure that there is someone in our church who has a clear idea of whether filling out the time sheets for the accountant is a work task or a personal task. That same person might make a distinction between reading a book when I am responsible for leading a church discussion group focusing on that book and reading a book because it is part of my spiritual growth and devotion and reading a book for entertainment. I don’t bother with that distinction. I read books at work and I read books at home. I have church books on my desk at home and on the shelves next to my favorite chair. I also will occasionally pull out a novel or collection of poetry over my lunch at my desk at the church. I know that reading poetry helps me write better prayers, but I don’t have a formula for how much poetry is necessary to be a good crafter of prayers.

I’m pretty sure I would drive an efficiency expert up the wall. I have no need to be super efficient. I have a few good habits that allow me to accomplish tasks. I spend part of my time in prayer and reflection. I make space to think creatively. And I don’t put much effort into filling out time cards accurately. I can’t tell you how many vacation days I’ve taken. After all, the church has an accountant to keep track of that. She’s probably a lot more efficient than I.

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