Tingling Masses of Availability: Changing Congregational Expectations
Tingling Masses of Availability
I had a professor in seminary who told us that when he was a parish minister he used to require, as a condition of employment, four weeks vacation every year—which he took all at one time. He said that he required the better part of two weeks just to start feeling relaxed.
I hear that.
He also said that when he went on vacation, he would go to a cabin without a phone–this was, of course, before cell phones and email. He did that intentionally so that he would be hard to reach. His secretary knew where he was, but the only way to get ahold of him was by calling the state police, who would then have to make a trip out to the cabin. Not impossible, but difficult enough to dissuade casual contact.
Making himself difficult to reach, he said, was the point. He wanted his parishioners to have to make a decision about whether their need was urgent enough to have to call the state police in order to get it addressed.
I love that.
Seminary students were horrified–as were his parishioners, I imagine, when he first explained it to them. “What if someone needed you?”
“I didn’t go to the moon. I simply made them make decisions about what ‘need’ means. People often define urgency in ways favorable to their own understanding of the world. Is Aunt Gladys’s bunion surgery an emergency? Is the failure to locate the toner cartridge for the copying machine urgent? Is misspelling the matriarch of the church’s name on the Christmas Bazaar literature a reason to go to DEFCON 1? Maybe. But why should the ministeralways have to decide what’s urgent? By going away like this, I tried to help the congregation take on some of the responsibility for its own care, by discerning what truly needed my attention from that which merely ‘felt’ urgent to each parishioner.”