Whaddya do when they can only afford to pay you parttime but the work requires your full heart and most of your disposable time? It depends, is the answer.
Over the nine years I've been officially a minister, I've noticed that September is the busiest month on the church calendar. It's far busier for me than the holiday season of Thanksgiving through New Year's, which has its own special busyness.
This year, here at UUCWI, is even busier because of the opening of our new building and all the preparations that need to be made. We always have a salmon bake on Ingathering Sunday, which is the Sunday after Labor Day, but this year we also wanted to have our first service in the new sanctuary on that day, so there was a lot of extra hustle and bustle to make that happen.
I'm committed to preaching twice each month, but during September that needed to morph into three times, just to make sure that we offered homegrown worship and ministerial presence during the first few services of the year, as visitors began to increase in number. I'm not preaching at UUCWI tomorrow but we have a guest speaker who will be just great. (I'm preaching at the Woodinville church tomorrow and I'll post that sermon later.)
On top of preaching, which I estimate takes at least one hour of preparation for every minute of the spoken text, there are innumerable other things that must be addressed: homebound folks need to be contacted and perhaps visited; newsletter copy sent in; pastoral care given; angst soothed as much as possible; phone calls, emails, letters responded to; conflicts averted or dealt with; and on top of it all, the constant awareness of the needs of the congregation and its members.
Ministry is never far from my mind. I am always preparing for something, seen or unseen! I try to let go of the unseen events and just trust myself to respond appropriately when necessary, rather than worry, but there is always something to be prepared.
That means that I work far more hours than the 60 I'm paid for. And I don't really mind, because it feels like an investment in the future of the congregation. However, I am still mindful that I am giving away my services to some extent. It's a dilemma. I come to a place in my mind where I'm wondering whether it's more ethical to do what needs to be done or to say no and let important things slide because they can't pay me.
All the staff members in a small congregation face this ethical dilemma, I think. I know our DRE and our Administrator are in a similar bind. Their (our) skills are absolutely essential to the life of the community but the community can't pay us for all the hours we spend, just part of them. Each of these staff members has a ministry of her own----to the children, by the DRE, and to the infrastructure and leadership, by the Administrator.
This dilemma causes us all to feel pretty stressed at times. It's not easy to say no when so much needs to be done and nobody else can do it in the way we do; but it's exhausting to be doing so much when it feels like we're doing it for free. The jobs we've agreed to do can't be done in a few hours a week. And to pare down the job description means that the ministry of the congregation has been pared down too, just at a time when it needs to be beefed up.
I've told our board that I can't afford to work so many more hours than I'm being paid for and that next year I will ask for those hours to be compensated. I will recommend the same for our Administrator and DRE; they have it even harder than I do.
I just looked at my calendar for the coming week and realize that the only thing I have to do next weekend is preach! Contrast that to this weekend: today I have a wedding consultation, a North End Koffee Klatch, a One Year anniversary party of a couple I married last year, and a First Principle conversation at my house at 7. Tomorrow I go to Woodinville to preach and, on the way home, all the shopping for necessities that are too expensive on the island.
And then comes a relatively open week, with only Sunday's sermon on the Jewish High Holidays to prepare. Luckily, I have help with that service from a lovely member who is Jewish and wants to offer her reflections about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We'll have klezmer music from another Jewish pal and then I don't have to preach again until Oct. 19!
I'm not griping, really. I'm in love with my congregation and Whidbey Island. I have enough of a private life and enough income from other sources to be very comfortable. But I know that I have a responsibility to the next minister who serves these folks to be realistic about the amount of ministry a congregation needs to thrive and grow. It may be a few years before they search for my successor, but I need to keep that in mind as we grow together.