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Out of the question: How much time for the parish?

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.

Your answers

Are there guidelines for stipendiary clergy (male and female) with a working spouse and young children about the ratio of their “parish” to their “childcare” time?

There are no guidelines, but two perils. Because clergy are unsupervised, they may take too much time off from what they are paid to do, or endanger the health of themselves, their marriage, and their children by attempting too much.

The clergy should discuss the issue with their churchwardens. As a starting point, they might look at the timetable of a family in the congregation where both parents work. The adults may work a 40-hour week, attend a Sunday service, and average two hours’ voluntary activity per week. The clergy should not count one of their Sunday services as work, as it is part of their Christian worship, and preparation is done beforehand.

The clergy are on call at home, but do not have to commute. Parishioners, however, need educating on good and bad times to call, and clergy families need regular breaks away from the parish when they can enjoy time together undisturbed. People may have caravans or holiday homes they can lend. Various members of the congregation may be happy to help with some childcare, housework, and administration.

A time-management strategy may be worked out with the wardens and explained to the congregation. If the combined parish and family pressures seem too great, then the possibility of the cleric’s going part-time might be discussed with the diocese (any reduction in stipend could fund additional clerical assistance); or the spouse might go part-time.

(Canon) John Goodchild
Liverpool

There are no guidelines. But I would be unhappy if the implication of the question was that all time should be “parish” time, apart from a small amount grudgingly parcelled off as “childcare” time.

All the research on working effectiveness and working hours in the secular world and on clergy stress points to a far healthier and more beneficial understanding that the cleric “works” for a certain number of hours (between 37 and 50 have been suggested), and is “off duty” for the remainder of the time.

Of course, there are grey areas and blurred boundaries, but this should be the basic assumption. It is helpful for this to be agreed at the beginning of a working relationship: most curates have a “working agreement” covering such issues, but it is perhaps less common for incumbent-level and more senior clergy. I have heard of some clergy who state that they “work” for, say, 45 hours a week, and “give” or “tithe” a further five hours, equivalent to the voluntary work for the Church that other employed people give.

Whatever the agreement reached, it should be irrelevant whether or not the cleric has children. His or her marital status or the employment status of the spouse should also be irrelevant. If the clergy are not doing a reasonable week’s work (say, 37-50 hours), then that is reasonable grounds for complaint, whatever the reason for it. But if they are doing a reasonable job for a reasonable working week, what they do in their time off is their own business.

I have suggested 50 hours as a top limit because research has found that working more than 50 hours a week is counter-productive.

(The Revd Dr) Miranda Threlfall-Holmes
Durham

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