Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Vacation Thoughts

So I'm on vacation this week and next.

Lately, it has seemed that my vacation time is cursed. My last three vacations have been interrupted by a congregant's death. I of course fostered no ill will toward the families. I mean, how could I? "Why couldn't you have helped them hang on a few extra days?" See, it doesn't work.

The other fortunate thing is that any plans that I'd made weren't truly interrupted. Two of those weeks, I was just due so I'd planned just to sit around and not do church stuff. The other week I was in New York City when I found out about the death, but I was going to be home in time for the service anyway.

This time I have plans to head to New Orleans on a work trip. I haven't been to that part of the country besides, and to experience this firsthand I know will leave an impression. But I'm bracing myself. I'm bracing myself for it to come, maybe 9:00 on Friday evening as I finish packing: "Pastor Jeff...So-and-So died." Once I leave Saturday morning, I'll be beyond physical reach for this sort of thing, but up until that point I consider myself fair game.

This is all well and good for a guy with no children and a wife who's been in school for the past year, so we haven't had the time or money to do much of anything during my vacations anyway. But that's all going to change very soon. Am I really expected to look into my 5-year-old's eyes and say, "Sorry, Daddy can't go with you to Cincinnati...something came up." "Sorry, we have to cancel our trip to Daytona because something happened." "We'll go to Michigan next year. Daddy has to take care of something here now."

Are you kidding?

Yeah, yeah, I know all the "You chose this work" and "This is God's call for you" and "Ministry is about interruptions" and "Just say no and point them to whoever you got to do pastoral coverage." You never hear about bankers being called back from vacation for banking emergencies. You never hear about pharmacists cutting time off short because of a pharmacy emergency.

Of course, the other side of this is that I'm blessed with a very understanding congregation. They're as excited as anyone about us being pregnant. And many of them would be the first ones to say, "Um...what are you doing here?" Whether that would happen if I was 40 with junior high-age kids instead of a young guy fumbling around expecting a newborn...that remains to be seen. I'm not sure how that would work.

I'm not sure how much of any of this will work.


Anonymous said...

That's why we have airports. Daddy won't be too far away and can still be with the family and serve the church.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but who pays for the last-minute, round-trip flight????

From my jolting experience, I would say, "That's why we have cell phones."

Three weeks after I started my ministry, I left for vacation. The day I was safely ensconced in my perch overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, I received a call that a pillar of the church had a sudden and massive stroke ... and the next day got the call he had died. The second day into a seven-day vacation three weeks after starting at the church.

I called the family (whom I didn't know at the time) and spoke to them. I called the minister covering for me (of the three mainlines in town, she was the only one that had been on the job for more than three weeks) who was a former nurse and had sat with them in ICU for hours. The family assured me that all was well with pastoral care and they didn't expect me to return for the funeral. Ten minutes or so on the cell phone (whatever it was, I don't recall) and I had met a pastoral need and continued with vacation. (Gulp!!!!!)

I visited them the day after I returned home.

I think and hope I ministered to them by making sure they were being ministered to and letting them know that I knew and cared ... and tough as it was, I honored the Senior Sem teaching about boundaries. But it was tough.

Look at it from the other side: if you were covering for another pastor and his/her parishoner died, the purpose of your coverage is for s/he to be able to have their sabbath time.


Theresa Coleman said...

Dear Coffee Pastor,

(Note: lecture mode on)

Your first duty is to yourself and your family. Remember the story of the oxygen masks on the airplane? You have to put YOURS on first in order to take care of others.

Find someone to cover for you while you are gone. Introduce them to your congregation. Let them handle it.

You will be modeling self-care and REAL family values to the family of God.

(lecture mode off)

When my g'mother died, the pastor was out of town. The substitute pastor was a retired minister -- he met me at the funeral home, helped me with the horrible process of planning a funeral, came to my house and generally held my hand. I was grateful for his presence. I was mad initally that my world had ENDED and my #$%@#$% pastor didn't drop everything and fly home! BUT by the time of the funeral, it was all good -- the relationship with the other pastor had be built. It was GOOD.

Your congregation will get over it -- honest.

Sally said...

what reverend mother said- you vacation should be just that- is there really no cover available???

Jeff Nelson said...

I knew the lectures on self-care were coming, but that doesn't mean that I didn't need to hear them.:)

And I've always lined up coverage...but I've usually been contacted directly by the families and at that point I'm not going to say no. That's been my reasoning.

Anonymous said...

Who goes on vacation 3 weeks into any new job?

Anonymous said...

Who does? I did! The vacation was a long-standing week that family gathered at the beach, and it was negotiated as to whether the church wanted me to start pre-vacation or post-vacation. The search committee chose to have me start ASAP.


Jeff Nelson said...

Well, now that that's cleared up...