The drop off: How can we support ministers as parents?

The drop off: How can we support ministers as parents?

As school started for the new year, a number of Uniting Church ministers were among those sending their children for the first time. How can churches support their ministers as they make this big transition?

Insights spoke to Uniting Church ministers whose children started school for the first time in 2023. While they represented a wide range of ministries, they reported some similar experiences in balancing their work with their children’s new needs.

Rev. Nicole Fleming is Candidate Formation Coordinator at United Theological College. Her partner, Eve, has just started working at a Preschool in the Blue Mountains.

“I love my role and the privilege of supporting candidates in their formation and working in the UTC team,” Rev. Fleming said.

“Eve’s role is much less flexible than mine is so I have been carrying the first week settling into School joy and pain. I’m fortunate to be able to work from home this week.”

“One of the gifts of ministry is the flexibility it offers to be able to do this sort of thing.”

Rev. Radhika Sukumar-White is one of the ministers at Leichardt Uniting Church.

She told Insights that, along with her husband Adrian, she had been lucky to work as part time ministers, while their daughter accessed daycare two to three days a week.

“School is a big change in rhythm, with five shorter days, along with uniforms, lunch boxes, homework, school holidays, pupil free days, and more,” Rev. Sukumar White said.

“I experienced some burnout last year, so as much as possible, I want to balance ministry work with quality time with my child, carving out that after school time every day to be with her, and finding spaces in the week for quality time as a family.”

“I think parenthood is as much a calling and vocation as ministry, and I want to do what we can to ensure our child doesn’t experience that common PK (Pastor’s Kid) experience where she feels deprioritised in favour of church.”

Rev. Heewon Chang is part of the ministry team at Hope Uniting Church. Her congregation currently has three five year olds starting school, with her daughter being one of them.

“One of the things I learned quickly during formation was the importance of scheduling and this practice has certainly sustained my family life as we juggle pick-ups and drop-offs, odd meeting hours and zoom meetings, pastoral visits, and worship preparations,” Rev. Chang said.

“At the moment I am learning a new rhythm and just a few weeks in and it feels like I am back at school as alarms go off early in the morning and around 2.30. Luckily my husband is able to work from home some of the days (a gift from COVID) and [our daughter] is at the after-school care three times a week, so I am relatively free from the 3 pm pick-up rush.”

“I am a mother in ministry and every day I am learning what that is like. Some days it is hard, especially the evening meetings and the meetings on Saturdays which translates as the time taken from family time. So, unless, it is necessary I try to keep my Saturdays free as possible.”

“Ministry does not come with a 9 to 5 fixed time slot, which can be challenging at times but I am trying to use the flexibility to my advantage and every morning as I take Anna to school, that 10-minute walk to school together is our precious time together.” 

Rev. Bec Lindsay is a Uniting Church minister currently completing a PhD. With her son starting school this year, she said her family was finding new patterns for the week, a process that was “a bit rocky for now.”

“We will get there, but it takes time to negotiate different hours and schedules,” she said.

“One of the amusing things for our school was meeting the principal last year who had worked out there would be two Uniting Church minister’s kids starting kindergarten.”

“She found it odd that my child was enrolled into Catholic scripture. I now find it amusing that these two UCA minister’s kids are not only in the same school, but in the same class!”

Rev. Liam Miller is also a PhD Candidate at United Theological College. His eldest daughter started school this year.

“It’s all new to us,” he said.

“Lots of nerves in the lead up, but so far it’s going well.”

“I’m very fortunate with flexibility of my role and ability to generally set the calendar so that I could be there for drop off and pick up most days these first weeks. It’s a big adjustment though, we went from doing days of 8-4:30 at daycare/preschool, to 9-3 with school. So it’s a whole new rhythm to figure out.”

“The balance is tricky too, as evening meetings are unavoidable, but transitions often throw out sleep and such, and so not being there to keep routine can be difficult. But thankfully, January and February can be a bit quieter.”

How can we help?

The ministers Insights spoke to expressed a number of ways congregations could potentially help parents in this position.

Rev. Fleming highlighted how UTC had supported her as an example.

“I am incredibly grateful for the support that Peter Walker has offered me to work at home this week and then to work out how an on-site/at home balance will work best for my family,” she said.

“A gift of COVID times (if there are any) is the ease of being able to work from home with resources that make that effective.”

“Ministry in a congregation setting has a different balance and demand. While evening/weekend meetings and Sunday responsibilities might offer a sense of flexibility during the week, time with the family and one’s own downtime when the kid/s are asleep can be lost to the demands of congregational ministry.”

“I’m aware of a colleague in another Synod whose congregation ensure that their minister has one weekend a quarter without worship responsibilities so that their family is enabled to have a weekend off together. That congregation also try to keep evening meetings to a minimum – one or two a month where possible.”

According to Rev. Sukumar-White, Leichardt Uniting Church has been “a real village” for her daughter, actively participating in her upbringing.

“That’s the dream I think, for minister’s kids not to feel like they’re on show or needing to behave perfectly at church, but to feel home, loved, respected and cared for, as they are. Also, don’t expect your ministers to be super-human! Ministers are servants, not slaves, and we have the same needs for rest and recreation as everyone else.”

Rev. Chang said it was important that churches allow their ministers to keep a day free.

“Help them keep their Saturdays free as possible,” she said.

“And not just for ministers but for young families, try to have child minding in place at large church gatherings or designated kid’s areas so that people with young kids and babies can still participate.”

Rev. Lindsay expressed similar sentiment.

“I think church communities and councils need to remember that ministers, just like other members and other employees, are also trying to find time to be with their families,” she said.

“If they have a partner who works 9 to 5 and/or kids in school then that means weekends and evenings.”

“If they’re already running services on Sundays, that means Saturday might be their only uninterrupted family time.”

“Weekends and evenings is the same portion of time that everything tries to fit into, including much ministry and many meetings.”

“It’s important that congregations support their ministers and their families to develop strong and healthy bonds, and that means allowing them time, which may mean that particularly opportunities can’t be taken up for a period, for example if Saturday is the only family time available then please don’t expect regular Saturday commitments from a minister.”

Rev. Miller said that congregations could help ministers by, “just understanding the time commitment.”

“Not just in terms of drop off and pick up, but all the time needed to help manage emotions, nerves, expectations of the kids,” he said.

“So looking at the schedule of meetings and events and considering what could maybe be skipped this month, or checking in to see if there’s any tasks that could be shared, or encouraging the minister to consider taking time off.”

Rev. Miller said the texts he received the week his child started school was one of the highlights of the first week.

“Everyone says the whole first term is just a huge effort, with the kids been tired and overwhelmed,” he said.

“So realising whatever support is offered in the first weeks needs to linger a little while yet.”


1 thought on “The drop off: How can we support ministers as parents?”

  1. When I was doing my D. Min degree I asked for January off with no pay. I only used half for study but the rest was more holidays with the kids. I wondered why I could ask for time for study but not for extra family time. Given the loss of weekends in ministry I would separate my four Sundays holidays off from my holidays meaning six days off in school holidays and four extra long weekends during the year. This article was a great start for conversations. The worst parishioner I ever had was a minister’s son. The best parishioner was a minister’s daughter.

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