On Monday a colleague posted an article on Facebook entitled “Why pastors shouldn’t work more than 40 hours a week – and why most do”. It was a good article in and of itself but the thing that interested me more was the visceral reaction people had to it on Facebook; most especially, the priests.

I will put this into my context so that you understand where I am coming from. I am a priest. I work in a parish. I pastor people. I go to people’s homes, the church, the hospital, the school, the council offices, the crematorium and the pub. I do many things including leading both public worship and private prayer. I also sit in my office with this laptop. I update the website. I write reports for the Annual General Meeting. I write letters to the bishop and fill in forms for the local council. I go to governors meetings at school and I sit with the local housing association and discuss issues we’re facing as a community. I attend training sessions on safeguarding. I clerk. I am after all a “clerk in holy orders”. Being a clerk in holy orders involves a certain amount of “clerking”. And all of this is stuff I have done in the last four days. On top of this I am a workaholic. And that makes me a bit of a hypocrite but hey ho, I’m half way through writing this now. I will often work 13-15 hour days and I will often work on my day off. Heck, I’m working right now on my day off. And I’m about to visit my best mate where we will talk all day about church and dream dreams and have visions. This is my life. A vocation. A calling. For me with the current retirement arrangements, a 38 year marathon rather than a four year sprint.

Back to the visceral reaction the Facebook iPriests had to the concept of “working hours”. When people were confronted with the idea of “working hours”, most reacted with the concept of “vocation vs job”. People said things like “if you want a job, go work at ASDA”. “This isn’t a job, it is a life”. “This isn’t a job, it’s about being there”. “When something happens I will be there”. “It is pastoral”. The trump card was always “pastoral work”.

“I have a duty and a joy to visit people in hospital and if it is my day off then I will lose my day off”.

Yes. I totally agree. But I have a question. Why is pastoral work always at the end of the list?  Why is this a skewed priority? People are important. Pastoral work isn’t something that should be an add on. God cares about people. People are important. It’s something we believe as a church. And forgive my Yorkshirism as I use it for emphasis:

People are importanter than paper and pixels.

If this is what we believe as a church, why have so many placed priority on the clerking and website editing? How has pastoral work been consigned to time off? How has pastoral work been prioritised over and above family? How has pastoral work become the poor relative who is demanding that we never see a spouse or parents? If you ask the people I pastor, they will tell you that I will move heaven and earth to be there. I will be there on my “day off”. I will be there when I have to drive two hours to get there from visiting my brother. I will cancel the Christmas Eve service to get there (actually happened this year). People are importanter than paper and pixels. People are importanter than my day off. People are importanter than a church service. And I am a person. I am people with my wife and parents and grandparents and friends.

I have wonderful church wardens. If I could bottle them and send them to you I would. And they make sure I don’t break. I am a person. I may be a shepherd in this field but I am also a sheep, and they pastor me. They make sure I am eating properly. They make sure that I get time to play my guitar – not necessarily on the day an emergency happens but on a random Tuesday afternoon instead. And they make sure that this guy in his thirties makes it to retirement without burning out. Thank God for them. I do each and every day.

We believe in Sabbath. God commanded it no less. The Egyptians had made the Israelites into slaves and whipped them until they got the straw to build their pyramids. But God is different. God is holy. God is set apart. “Have a Sabbath”. Time for God, time for family, time for friends, time to put the straw and bricks down and look after yourself. Time for me to play silly scales and make squealy noises on the guitar. Time to eat dinner with my wife. Time to visit my mum and dad. Time to sit and do nothing. And I call that Sabbath “Friday”. Not a day that is so legalistic that if the phone goes I won’t arrive at the hospital if I am needed. Not a day that can’t become “Tuesday afternoon instead” if it needs to be. A state of mind where my wife, the church wardens and God make sure that this priest, pastor and minister makes it to the end of the marathon.