In Part 1 of this series, I encouraged the Church to be a more family-friendly employer.
In Part 2, I outlined the first part of my proposal. Here I share the rest of the proposal.
3) Balance of Vocation and Ministry
“The family is the most ancient institution which God founded in Paradise, when He called the first pair of human beings into existence. The first blessing which God gave was for the wellbeing of the family. With family life, the history of the world commences.” — St. John Vianney
A priest has a unique role in that his vocation and ministry are married together. The priest marries the bride of Christ — the Church. He is Father and shepherd to her members. His ministry is lived out in his familial care and concern for us! In the same way, when a man and woman marry and begin a family, they are on call to the needs of their family day and night, night and day. A priest tends to the physically and spiritually sick children in the same way that parents care for their children.
Pastoral staff balance their vocation and ministry differently, however, in the same way as priests, Christians and those who work for the Church cannot turn their ministry on or off. It is something ongoing, at the office or home. I remember attending the Institute for New Youth Ministers with Frank Mercadante. Jim Beckman was one of the speakers who gave a presentation on how important it is for us to strengthen our personal spiritual life before we even think about setting out to do ministry. He drew a chart of three concentric circles. In the center was GOD, the second ring was VOCATION, and the third was MINISTRY. The source of all is God, but ministry flows directly out of the two. Ministry through vocation. God first, then Vocation, then ministry.
Ministry requires unusual hours and an often chaotic schedule, if you’re doing it right! You must go to the people, out on the water. You must walk with people like Jesus on the road to Emmaus. And you must also have your sermon at the Mount moments where you are available and create opportunities for people to come to the Lord. There are evenings and weekend hours. Sometimes overnights and weeklong trips. There are phone calls and messages and emails and finishing work at home because someone popped into the office unexpectedly. There is the ministry of presence, funerals, weddings, school events, etc. In the midst of the chaos, we must make time for family. There are a few ways that I think we can do that, and in this case I primarily speak from my experience.
A) Welcoming the family to ministry.
I cannot tell you how grateful I was for my pastor in Fowler, Michigan. When I was expecting my second child, I was the Director of Music for the parish. The parish my husband worked at had a pretty strict policy about bringing children to work. My pastor knew we could not afford childcare but he valued what I had to offer the parish in my own gifts and talents. So what did he do? He helped me to find someone to hold my babies during the daily Masses I played. He offered to setup a playpen in my office for my child to be present while I completed my office work. On the occasions that I had to attend a staff meeting, he bought a small basket of toys so my kids could play while we met. I know this is an incredibly unique thoughtfulness and welcoming of my family on behalf of my pastor, but I will never forget this. He wasn’t just my boss, but my spiritual father. He made it possible for me to help support my family, use my gifts for the Church, and not have to choose between the two. I realize, this is not always possible in every circumstance, and that is up to the discernment of the pastor and employees, but what a beautiful openness to life and testament to being pro-family!!!! Incidentally, this parish was featured in CNN`s Called to the Collar for the amount of vocations coming from that parish! That welcoming of families extends past the workplace and into the community!
When I travel for speaking and music engagements, I bring my youngest until they are about a year old. I have been so blessed, as the places I go provide someone to watch my baby during my time of speaking or leading music. They may not realize it, but their gift of holding my child is a ministry too!!
Our pastors have been over to our house for dinner and they have been here in times of crisis. Just as we want our Church workplaces to be more welcoming of our families, we also need to extend that same welcoming hand to them!
B) Allowing flexible hours in the case of family emergencies
Many parishes do this — allow a staff member to care for a family emergency without having to take vacation days, but instead make up those hours or that time as needed. By the fruits of their ministry will you know them, not by their hours. I don’t know a single person dedicated to ministry and their relationship with the Lord that refuses to work above and beyond the minimum required. They spend time in prayer, in study, in fellowship with other parishioners, and are available even at home. Most employees of the Church who work *part-time* laugh and describe the multiple job responsibilities that they have!
I do know people, though, who have burned out, because of being unable to balance the vocation and ministry. Ministry can easily consume us to the point that we neglect vocation. My husband and I spend a lot of time talking about ministry, sometimes every day!!! We have to say okay, right now, let us talk about something else! The point I am making here, is that should we count the hours? Or should we count the fruits? I believe we should count the fruits. A pastor/boss of mine is an example of this— when I tried to submit a proposal for my hours, said he did not care to see it, rather, he trusted me to do the work he gave me to do. I worked well with that! I had grown so accustomed to writing out my hours to make sure I could prove that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing should anyone question the time I wasn’t at my desk, that often once I hit 40, the temptation was to not finish the things I had started, even if it would not take very long. I even know someone who was told they were not allowed to work past 40 hours! If we are hours conscious, are we limiting the work God can do in us? Are we setting boundaries that cause us to be untrusting of one another and skeptical or resentful?
Ministry is not our vocation. We are not ordained priests and sometimes we do need to set boundaries and admit when we are overwhelmed or need some extra help. But this does mean that we see our work as building the Kingdom of God and not simply punching a timecard. The salary we receive as employees is not our bread and butter as money well earned — it is help to support our families, to allow us to free up our pastors to focus on what God has asked them to do too, and to enable us to reach out in a concentrated full-time manner to create opportunities for others to encounter Christ. We shouldn’t expect to get rich, ha ! We should continue to operate as generous stewards and contributors to those in need as well.
Our salary is meant to cover our needs for the purpose of dedicating our lives to mission.
As parishioners, our monetary gifts are crucial to this cause and rooted in Scripture as the early Church cared for their ministers!
C) Allowing some work from home
Now, before you think I am advocating for a bunch of couch potato slackers, I am not. But, there are many things that parish staff members CAN do from home. I definitely think staff should be accessible to parishioners at the office or rehearsals or whatever the ministry is – that includes pastors. But there are some legitimate things that can be done from home. This includes study, planning, communications, program design, assembling presentations, phone calls, calendaring, research, social media, music practicing, etc. If a family member is ill or the other parent has to work and childcare cannot be afforded, sitting down with the pastor to come up with a concrete plan of action would be beneficial. Not all work can be done from home. It can take longer as sometimes there are more distractions! I think this work-from-home scenario can be achieved with a clear communication with the pastor, plan, details of what will be done or was done at home as needed, and establishing an understanding among fellow staff of how the employee is to be accessible from home and present at the office.
D) Maternity Leave
I never took a maternity leave because we could never afford it. With my second child, I was back at choir practice three days after having her. It was difficult. Even with my fourth, I only took one week off of music lessons, again because we could not afford more time off. You do what you have to do for your family. Americans complain all the time about the pathetic maternity leave most corporations have. However, we, as a Church, actively promote the welfare of families and the pro-life mentality and yet we too fall into that category of having crummy maternity leave. Women have to go on disability and receive 2/3 pay for 12 weeks, typically. How can we change this? How can we be the model by which secular institutions can conform and also support the financial well-being of mothers and family?
I propose an alternative maternity leave and again, this whole blog really is not my immovable opinion, it is just my offerings based on what I have seen and experienced and how I truly believe the Church could, by her own employment practices, set the standard for the secular business world and not the other way around.
I propose that each parish set aside money for a maternity scenario or even medical emergency scenario, to be determined by each parish based on what money would be required to hire outside help or provide some bonuses for current staff to take over some of the work while the employee is gone. I propose the option for:
— fully paid maternity leave for one month.
—2/3 maternity pay for the next month afterwards with the 1/3 going to hire outside help as needed.
—option for the employee work from home or bring baby to work as needed for the next four months, full pay reinstated. The baby will be six months at that point and I propose again, that for the next six months, mother and baby be able to stay together as much as possible, work from home, bringing baby along as needed, and job responsibility and pay continue as normal.
Perhaps parishioners could use their stewardship to care for the children during staff meetings or other times when it would be difficult to do the work with a baby on the hip!
For fathers, I propose full paid leave for first month, and after that, a flexible work schedule for the second and third months including working from home, but that could all be communicated and worked out with the pastor.
So what about Catholic families like us that have many babies in a short amount of time…. would they never work? Every model and philosophy of ministry adheres to the notion that your programs should not revolve around you because if you leave, the entire program falls apart. Every ministry should have a team of volunteers from people who have gifts in those areas and seek to use their time and talent to build the Kingdom of God! As pastoral ministers, we are called upon to equip those parishioners empowered by the Holy Spirit to be able to go out and spread the Good News! The procedure I am proposing for maternity leave would be this….
When a woman finds out she is pregnant, she would setup a meeting with the pastor to begin preparations for her absence. She would meet with the pastoral staff to discuss her plan to equip others to continue the ministry during the potential two months that she is away and honestly describe what the needs of the ministry will be to allow an opportunity for others to step forward and lend their gifts temporarily to allow their sister to recover from birth. The plan would be in writing and the pastor would appoint someone to be the point person for her programs while she is gone. This person would be in direct communication with her as she plans and trains this person to take over temporarily. The woman would necessarily put in some extra time during these nine months for this preparation and continue about her regular responsibilities.
The same applies for the father, in the month of his absence.
As the child grows older, if childcare is an impossible to afford commodity, I propose flexible scheduling or working with the stewardship of parishioners who would love to minister to their staff by assisting in childcare.
THAT SAID, honest communication and discernment should be had, that if the ministry is truly suffering or family is truly suffering, God may be calling us on to something different, and we should be open to that as well. Perhaps considering part-time or contractual employment for the time being.
This is not a novel idea — Other secular companies are starting to do this so they can attract and retain the best, most qualified people!
This isn’t a foolproof solution and if you are scoffing, I hope not. I hope, rather, that we can begin the discussions of allowing our pro-life, pro-family, pro-marriage theology to transform our parish, beginning in the work place. I am hoping the Church who has always paved the way in human rights and social justice and worker`s rights can quit trying to model all of her practices based on the stringent norms of the secular business world, and instead be the model herself, allowing other businesses to take up the same practices, transforming our world into a place where families are supported and children are welcomed.
“There is nothing which edifies others so much as charity and kindness, by which, as by the oil in our lamp, the flame of good example is kept alive.” — St. Francis de Sales
Copyright 2016 Noelle Garcia
About the Author: Noelle Garcia is a Catholic speaker/recording artist with World Library Publications and One Voice Media. She has worked in youth, music, and evangelization ministries for over ten years and was featured in CNN’s Latino in America and EWTN’s Life on the Rock. She currently resides in Dodge City, Kansas with her husband and four young children. Listen to Noelle’s presentation, “Getting Others to Heaven” through Lighthouse Catholic Media and visit her blog: Ministry through Vocation.