LIMA — The Christmas season is a time of year where people celebrate family and, for many people, their faith. However, despite the many wonderful things about the Christmas season, there are also a lot more activities and obligations that also make it much busier time of year. This is especially true for those who serve as pastors.
“There are definitely challenges in balancing ministry and family,” said the Rev. Al Elmore, senior pastor at Lima Baptist Temple. “Discerning what is important in ministry in relation to family priorities is something all pastors have to deal with.”
Because of the unique nature of a pastor’s job description, one of the biggest challenges is meeting the individual needs of a congregation.
“Being a pastor, unless you have more than one on staff, you are always on call,” said the Rev. Sharon Stonerock, interim pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church ELCA. “You always have to be available to families in need.”
Many pastors find those needs to be greater during the Christmas season than at other times of year.
“From a pastoral perspective,” said the Rev. Brian Robertson, head pastor at Crossroads Church of God, “there are a lot more demands within the congregation and the community. More people are calling and have needs or need to talk. You want to give that time and be available, but you still have to prioritize your family, too.”
The Rev. David Harris, senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church agreed with this. “The schedule can be intense,” he said. “One of the challenges this time of year is still enjoying and appreciating the season. You can get into the feeling of ‘I can’t wait until this is over.’ That’s unfortunate when we let ourselves get to that point.”
While the rest of the pastors interviewed felt the Christmas seasons was busier for them, the Rev. Pat Sloneker did not feel that way. Sloneker is the senior pastor for the St. Petersburg Parish which consists of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Wapakoneta, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Fryburg, St. Lawrence Catholic Church and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Botkins.
“It’s easier during the holidays,” he said. “One of the reasons for that is we generally close down the parish meetings for Advent. So, for example, there is no pastoral care meeting and other meetings during the month. Because it is a busier time of year, people tend to have fewer expectations. Mercy is built right in there.”
Despite the extra challenges every pastor interviewed had ways that he or she kept their balance during not just this busy time, but all year long.
For Stonerock, planning ahead is the foundation to maintaining her equilibrium. “The key for me,” she said, “is to be about a month ahead in planning. That really helps me maintain my sanity because something is bound to pop up that requires a lot of time, like someone gets in a serious accident or has an illness. So, I plan as much ahead as I can. I’m already working on Lent.”
She also suggests that pastors and their families stay flexible. “We have nurses in our extended family,” she said, “so we know we are probably not going to be able to get together on Christmas day. We stay flexible about things, and you have to know stuff happens. That’s a part of life.”
Harris also relies on planning to help him maintain balance. “It’s important to be planning in this season,” he said. “It’s important to plan some open times, so you don’t always feel rushed. You are going to have some unexpected things come up like funerals, so having that open time built into your calendar helps you avoid feeling like you are constantly running.”
While all the pastors said they strive to make family a priority, the reality is that in ministry, sometimes families have to be flexible and understanding.
“My wife and daughters know God called me as a pastor,” said Elmore who has two adult daughters who live out of state. “When I felt God calling me to the next pastoral assignment, He was also working in my family’s harts preparing them. I love my family and my church, and we’ve always seemed to make it work.”
Harris served seven years as the district superintendent in the Northwest Plains District of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. He supervised over 80 pastors and advised them to regularly take one day a week off, a few days together every few months, and a week off for a spiritual retreat in addition to their vacation.
“It’s usually the clergy that have a hard time doing this,” said Harris. “The longer you are with a congregation, the more you really love the people and it’s hard to step away from them.”
Robertson, who has five children ages 6 to 14, stressed that finding balance takes being intentional. It doesn’t just happen. “If you don’t make the time for your family,” he said. “Others will fill your schedule for you.”
Rosanne Bowman is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Lima News. Share your story ideas with her at email@example.com.