1. Learning as we go...
I am a Free Range Priest, serving 2 Sundays a month at a small congregation (total membership = 30). I serve un-conventionally, but that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about them!
Last year, as Holy Week and Easter approached, I had committed to Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday, but had other commitments for Palm Sunday and Good Friday. This was scheduled and agreed on months in advance. As the days got closer, though, I had a nagging sense of guilt.
‘I could probably be there on Palm Sunday,’ I thought to myself. I would have to rearrange some things on my calendar, but it was technically possible. Palm Sunday is so important, and they would be without me. And what about Good Friday? I didn’t really see how I could get there, but I felt like I should. This congregation deserved to have a priest on one of the most holy days of the year. I couldn’t shake the sense that I was letting them down. I thought briefly about calling to say I would be there after all.
Then I got their weekly newsletter in my email inbox, and immediately noticed they had everything taken care of! They had contracted with another priest to cover Palm Sunday, and had scheduled lay-led Stations of the Cross for Good Friday. And since I am not part of putting together the newsletter or the schedule, I hadn’t even known! This congregation is perfectly capable of taking care of themselves.
It was a wonderful wake-up call for me. I really don't have to be there all the time for ministry to happen.
The church grows through both lay and clergy leadership - even worship leadership.
2. Clergy on contract
The basic model of congregational ministry is a building, a clergy person, maybe a small part-time staff, and one set group of people who support it all with their time, treasure, and talent.
This model still works about half the time (at most), the other half is struggling. Congregations can’t afford clergy salary and benefits, even half-time; buildings and grounds are too much to manage; and clergy work harder than ever for less compensation. We are all trying to support a system that is simply unsustainable for many.
There is Good News, however! Paying clergy hourly, or by contract, rather than salary, allows congregations to have the ordained ministry they can afford, when and where they need it most. It also allows clergy to work in multiple places and ways without being overwhelmed or exhausted.
Clergy on contract sets expectations for what clergy ministry is, and what we expect to do.
The church grows as we find sustainable ways to share our ministry.
3. 2 Sundays
The hard part - initially - is that sustainable part-time means clergy are not always at the congregation, as true part-time is no more than 2 Sundays a month. Clergy and congregations tend to resist this!
Yet if clergy are present every Sunday, this basically amounts to full-time, because most people in the congregation spend most of their time at church on Sundays. It is simply assumed we are always there - because we appear to be!
It then becomes harder to avoid doing 'everything', and slipping into full-time work for part-time pay, which is NOT sustainable for anyone.
Making the change to 2 Sundays a month is the really hard part - but once it happens, it's easier to see how much healthier part-time ministry feels.
Clergy have more energy for their ministry, and can share more ministry in more places. Lay leaders take more ownership and direction of their ministry.
The church grows through everyone sharing more Good News.
the Rev. Catherine Caimano