Most days I don’t miss my former life as a college English instructor. The cramped office, the bizarre hours, the condescending male colleagues, the meager pay—I still have all of those perks as a pastor. Plus, in the church, I don’t have to assign grades.

Grades are what I hated most about teaching, because no matter how lovely a person you are, nobody likes you if you give them a “D” on an essay about their grandmother dying. Because how dare you insult their beautiful, dead, grandmother. And you just hate grandmothers, and are, therefore, a horrible human being.

So most days I don’t miss teaching college at all. But mid-May is not most days. Mid-May is when my college classes would be OVER. Done. Finished. And there would be an entire summer ahead with NO classes to teach.

The only time I get this kind of break as a pastor is when I go on sabbatical. Which is actually better than summer vacation because I get paid. But worse because it only happens every four years or so.

And even then, when I come back from sabbatical, I don’t get a completely new congregation. All the people I have come to know and love are still in the church when I get back (mostly). And the people that drive me crazy are still there, too.1

I suppose I should confess at this point that I am somewhat conflict avoidant. Which makes college teaching a comfortable profession for me. If there is someone I just can’t stand, I don’t need to spend my precious time and energy trying to “understand their position” or “reconcile our viewpoints” or “convince myself they are not really a complete ass.” I can smugly disdain yet tolerate difficult people for three months, then they are out of my life.

But I find the “tolerate yet disdain” strategy less effective in the church. Because most people stick around longer than three months. And because, as a pastor, I’m supposed to “set an example” and “create healthy community” and “follow Jesus.” So rather than comfortably avoiding conflict, I have to talk to people and work through differences, and generally act like an adult. Which is not always fun or easy.

The other thing about coming back from a sabbatical is that all the problems I created before I left for sabbatical are still there. Teaching college, if I set a policy (like accepting late work or reading student texts out loud or sharing my home phone number) that turned out to be a bad idea, I could just change the policy for the next semester. And none of my new students would know how bad I screwed up with my last class.

But in a church, there is no “reset” button. Yes, I can change policies. But it takes time. And even when new policies are in place, I still have to deal with the consequences of the earlier policy because, as I mentioned above, I do not get an entirely new group of congregants every three months.

Also, I can’t reuse sermons the way I could lesson plans. And people—normal, non-English-professor people—seem to care a whole lot more about my interpretation of Romans 1 than they do my analysis of “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” And, did I mention the part about only getting a three-month break every four years?

So, yes, this time of year I feel a little twinge for the road not taken. But just a little one. All-in-all I think being a pastor is the best job in the world. And I expect to be completely twingeless by Pentecost.

– – –

1Please note that this discussion of “people who drive me crazy” is hypothetical. Every single person to walk through the doors of Peace Mennonite Church is incredibly lovable. I’m just lucky like that.

–by Joanna Harader

7 thoughts on “Wits-Ends Day: Mid-May Twinges

  1. My parents were teachers. I was a student/teacher/student/Instructor for 40 years. I was an English teacher, so the end of term push was gigantic, but when it was done, it was done! Now I work in the church and the biggest learning curve for me is this thing where we plow through the big thing, the end-of-term push, so to speak, (Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, Lent/Easter, etc.) and it doesn’t re-set. There’s Easter 2 and Ordinary time and people’s needs and committees that want to meet and on and on. I love it, but it’s exhausting. Thanks! –Wendy

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am an English instructor — and this post really resonated with me. I love teaching, but I hate grading. And I do love the academic calendar. I am always so happy when the semester ends.

    I think I need the “reset” button in my work life because I’m part of a big extended family. I have four grown kids, a bunch of nieces and nephews, and two elderly parents — so nurturing that family takes a whole lot of my emotional energy. There’s no “reset” button with family, and I think being a minister must be very much like taking care of a big extended family ….

    Like

  3. 18 years a ‘sessional’ instructor in the local English Department before ordination. yup. I teach’em and God grades’em… Loved your opening paragraph, for sure. I wonder what percentage of us second-career, oops second-calling, types went from Eng Lit into ordained ministry? For Anglicans/Episcopalians, of course, it’s the very definition of a slippery slope, but how about others?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I worked in insurance, and don’t miss it at all. No. Sabbaticals. Ever.
    Well, there was that thing about going home at 5:00 p.m. And weekends. There’s that.

    Like

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