I grew up in the church, the child and grandchild of pastors. For a number of years, I was married to another 3rd generation pastor, so please, pray for our kids! All that to say, I’ve had up close and personal knowledge and experience of the church for a long time, so I’ve got some expertise when I assert that Trinity is really a very special place. If you’re reading this, you probably already know that.
I say this as a preface of gratitude for the ways in which Trinity cares - for the world, the community, for each other - and for the staff. While Presbytery includes a pastoral sabbatical in the minimum terms of call, Trinity has long been ahead of that curve, and as I’ve been planning for my sabbatical over the past year, I’ve felt nothing but support and excitement for this gift of time and space. I don’t take that for granted.
I am also grateful for the Parental Leave policy passed by the Session a few months ago. While installed pastors are covered under Presbytery minimums there, too, there are no requirements or legal protections for other staff. Our new Parental Leave policy covers 12 weeks for childbirth or adoption, with an additional 2 weeks for recovery in case of a c-section. It’s a policy that is far more generous than most employers offer, and I am proud of it.
We’ve been blessed by Victoria’s work with us since she began in October, and I’m grateful that we can show our gratitude and care for her by offering this paid leave after the birth of her daughter, due later this month. I can’t think of a better way to communicate our care for Victoria and her family than supporting this important time.
Both of these policies - sabbatical and parental leave - are unfortunately very counter-cultural. The US is abysmally behind in parental leave policies. According to a Washington Post article, “The United States is the only wealthy country in the world without any guaranteed paid parental leave at the national level… Only a handful of other countries — all low or middle income — offer nothing.”(*1) That article compares the US with Britain (39 weeks), Japan (52 weeks or more), Sweden (68 weeks), and Estonia (82 weeks or more). While I’m proud of our 12 week leave policy, it also points to a massive justice issue that needs to be corrected at the national level.
As for sabbatical, the root of the word is Sabbath. Rest. We live in a society that has very uneven opportunities for paid time off, combined with a cultural expectation and veneration of overworking. A tweet that went viral last fall summed it up this way: “European out-of-offices: ‘I’m away camping for the summer. Email again in September.’ American out of-offices: ‘I have left the office for two hours to undergo kidney surgery but you can reach me on my cell anytime.’”(*2)
There are so many systemic issues at work in both of these areas, and we should be advocating for change for all people. Sabbath rest is an issue of deep theological importance to us, and it should be accessible to everyone. Those least likely to have it are most likely to need it. When does the person working 2-3 jobs to make ends meet have time to rest? Is their labor less laborious? And the lack of paid parental leave, and paid sick leave, for that matter, is simply unconscionable.
Even so, the danger is that we get locked into the unhealthy cultural mindset, the “it must be nice” attitude that judges rather than celebrates when this time is given. A member in my first congregation made it clear that, while the church was required to offer pastors 4 weeks of vacation, he certainly expected us not to use it. He never would have asked for that much time off during his working years. Or we may begrudge others the paid parental leave that was never offered to us.
As people of faith, we should support these kinds of policies for all people. As the church, we ought to lead the way where we can. I’m grateful for the many places where Trinity leads the way. Not because we have to, and not begrudgingly, but because it is the right way thing to do, and one way of showing our love and care for each other.
On a more practical note, my Sabbatical runs from June 1-August 31. I’m including all of this information in May’s Nous because by the time you receive the Nous for June, I’ll be off. I’m grateful for Gwen, who will be offering continuing pastoral care coverage during the summer, as well as to our guest preachers, and the many who have been and will be stepping up to fill in the gaps while I’m gone. We’ll also be blessed with the gifts of Corrina Peachy, who will be our temporary Church Administrator while Victoria is on Parental Leave. If you’d like to know more about my still-solidifying plans, you can read more in the attachment below.
In love and gratitude,