For the second time in my ministry, I am appointed to family leave. The first time was when my older daughter was one. As she grew and became more aware and fun, I struggled with the competing roles of mother and pastor, not unlike many working parents. It hurt when I picked her up from our wonderful caregiver, and she did not want to leave. It hurt when she was at a church meeting with me and then my husband picked her up on his way home from work to put her to bed. It hurt that she always wanted him, because he was the one putting her to bed most nights. Even as I am married to a well-adjusted preacher’s kid (PK), the fears of the horror PK stories would sometimes cause me to hold my breath.
It was so difficult to leave a church I loved, but I did not regret my decision. Those early years were fun, though totally exhausting at the time. With my issues with pregnancy, I was right in knowing that I could not care for a toddler, a church, and be pregnant all at the same time.
This family leave is different. My girls are 8 and 11, and so independent and self-sufficient. However, it hurt when I came home so emotionally exhausted and had nothing left to give them. It hurt when they needed me, and I had to go back to work. It hurt when I had to let go of a tiny hand or remove a child from my lap in the pew to go up front to lead worship. It hurt when, after worship, they want to tell me about Sunday School, and I ignore them to finish a conversation with a parishioner. Like my competing children, I often felt like my parishioners and children were competing for my attention. Whoever I chose to focus on, the other felt hurt. I knew which parishioners adored my children, and who felt jealous when I was mothering someone else, whether my own children or another parishioner.
Being a clergy mother is a beautiful privilege. However, it is not many jobs where you bring your family to work, and your family is expected to be present. Literally being all things to all people takes its toll. Sometimes that work of trying to do it all hurt my heart.
I hope both my congregations I left for family leave understand it is more about me than them. I want to do everything well, and the divided life of active clergy and mothering always make me feel like I do nothing as well as I could. I also hope when they receive a clergy parent, and especially a clergy mother, they will give her the space to occupy both roles in a healthy way.
The call to be a mother is sacred. The call to be a pastor is sacred. I do not feel like the calls compete, despite my choosing to step away from active ministry. Being a mother made me a better pastor. My capacity for love grew as my body swelled with my first pregnancy. I understood more completely God’s unconditional love for us.
Sundays are sacred for Christians, because it is our Sabbath. More than just a rhyme, Sundays are Fun-days. 2020 has changed our Sundays. Since March, most congregations have online worship. Many do not know when they will return to the building. My congregation went to livestream, so each Sunday I still went to church to lead worship. My routine changed considerably. I was able to arrive an hour later, and leave hours earlier. There were none of the typical conversations or check-ins that pastors need to have with people. I was surprised how quickly I adjusted to this new way of church. Watching my Facebook page, reading comments, it really did seem like people were gathered and we were experiencing worship together.
August 9 was my last Sunday at my congregation. Now I don’t know what to do with myself on Sundays. There is no need to wake up early to pray and prepare. Though we have aligned with a new congregation, each week we are choosing where to worship so I can hear different colleagues and see different styles. I preferred a later worship start as pastor; now as someone at home, I want to worship and then move on with my day. Except that I don’t really know what to do with myself. All the extra time on Sunday morning does not feel right.
I hope someday to return to active ministry. What that looks like, time will tell. For now, I will continue to adjust to a new rhythm. I will try to enjoy the slower pace, the lack of obligations, and support my colleagues instead. The focus on my family feels right, and I hope I will eventually settle into our new routine.