On not being a mug

This is a guest post from Jules Middleton.

This week, eminent classicist Professor Mary Beard tweeted:

Can I ask academics of any level of seniority how many hours a week they reckon they work. My current estimate is over 100. I am a mug. But what is the norm in real life?

As you might imagine, the antagonistic joy that is Twitter produced starkly mixed responses – there is no norm in academia and there is no norm for clergy either. Add into that abnormality, being a wife and mum as well as a full time minister and you got yourself a seemingly unsolvable equation and perhaps the biggest stressor in this clergy woman’s life.

My first two years of ordained life were strained as I tried to suss out a good pattern of life for us as a family in this new season. I still get it wrong quite regularly but in those early days I realised for me there were two key areas to delve into – the first being my own passion for my calling, leading me to want to do more and go further than was realistically sensible. I wonder if this is where Mary Beard is coming from, clearly someone who is passionate about her work, and I know many clergy who work hours approaching hers out of their passion for what God has called them to.

I never want to lose the passion for what God has called me to but I have realised that I have to be reasonable in my estimations of myself. God has not called any of us to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of The Church and I feel as much called to be a wife and mum as a minister. Christopher Ash writes in his book ‘Zeal without Burnout’ about sustainable sacrifice, suggesting that we are called to go on giving to God throughout our lives and we can’t do that if we burn out. I’ve found that really helpful as a concept, especially as there can be an element of The Church that wants to sanctify the sacrifice of excess hours and I genuinely don’t think God is calling any of us to do that.

The second area that was important for me was recognising my lack of role models – it’s hard to know what is best when you can’t see anyone in a similar situation to you. My clergy colleagues were generally male, older, with wives who did most of the house stuff and there was only one other woman in my diocese in the same position as I was. What I saw was those around me working very long hours, because they could, and because the pressures on their time were far more limited than on mine. I could not keep up with that but I also didn’t know how to work out my own model of working. A few years in I’m so grateful for conversations with other ministry mums who have offered advice and suggestions, and for a husband who encourages me but also gently pulls me up when my sacrifice is becoming unsustainable.

Clergy well being is not just about us doing what is right for us – sure we bear some of the responsibility – but if we want to be better as a church then we need to look out for each other, modelling to each other sensible, and sustainable ways of doing ministry. We’re all in this together for the glory of God’s kingdom.

Revd. Jules Middleton

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