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The Rhythm of the Rector

I am 18 months into my first stint as an Episcopal rector. I serve a small, urban parish that also has an acclaimed preschool, but also a 60-unit housing complex for indigent seniors. I now have the opportunity to reflect back on the time demands of such a role.

Now, I’ve been a minister of word and sacrament for a quarter of a century, so it’s not as if I am naïve about the scheduling pressures involved in pastoral ministry. Once, about 25 years ago, when my wife and I were attending a conference for church planters — I’ve led essentially two church plants over the years — we realized that I was working over 100 per week. No wonder I burned out only a few years later.

Now, on the far side of burnout, and after a wonderful 13-year stint as the leader of a new second campus (in the role of associate minister) in East Texas, I am older and wiser. (At least that is the hope.)

Still, serving as rector — wow! So many different time-consuming hats to wear: preaching, teaching (including Christian formation classes), liturgical planning and celebration, evangelism, leading at least two annual retreats, leading Lenten programs, leading confirmation preparation programs, shepherding parents at the school and residents in the housing complex, chairing three boards, raising up leaders, managing personnel issues and relationships, hiring staff members (which involves searching, interviewing, and many more HR aspects besides), stewardship (which I regard as a year-round project), budgeting, overseeing ministries new and old, collaborating with the Head of School, casting vision, dealing with unhoused folks, working with other community leaders, working with the wardens and vestry to steward the buildings and grounds, serving in particular roles at the diocesan level. The list at times seems endless. (And an important addendum for good measure: I am convinced that Christ calls me to be a husband and father first, placing my spouse and children over ministry in the church — easier said than done!)

Oh, also, God has made me a scholar and I truly feel called to teach, write, and publish. So there’s that, as well.

One thing I’ve noticed in the last 18 months, which I had not fully anticipated, is that in the course of a year a definite pattern emerges, a certain rhythm. And this rhythm has implications.

The pattern, it seems to me, looks something like this (starting in September, the beginning of what I think of as “the Fall semester”):

  • Fall Semester (beginning around Labor Day): Confirmation preparation begins; stewardship season begins; parish retreat occurs.
  • Christmas & Christmastide: children’s pageants (both church and school); Christmas parties (I host one for the school board and the vestry).
  • “The January Whammy.” Just when you start to expect a respite from Christmas events, Wham! It’s time (past time, actually) for the following:
  • The annual parish meeting (at which new vestry members are elected);
  • The January vestry meeting (at which new officers of the vestry are elected and/or announced, and at which delegates and alternates to Diocesan Council are elected);
  • The vestry retreat (at which new — and not so new — vestry members are welcomed and trained);
  • The submission to the national church of the parochial report, which documents annual Sunday attendance, parish budget, and other things;
  • The arrangements for Diocesan Council (which takes place in February).
  • Spring Semester. In addition to Lent (including the Lenten program) and Easter (lots of events for both church and school), I find that this is a good time to have targeted small groups centered on Scripture and/or books (this semester the rector’s book group is studying Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis — and folks are loving it).

Earlier I mentioned certain implications of this rhythm. For me one of the most crucial is that summer provides an opportunity for much-needed rest. Before I was rector, I did not fully appreciate this. What I now realize is that finding the time and space for leisurely recovery and rest is absolutely crucial to hit the ground running once September rolls back around.

Then you begin again. “Always we begin again,” as the ancient Benedictine maxim has it.

That other maxim (originating with Jesus), “One day at a time,” is full of wisdom. But so is yet another: “One year at a time.”

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