I’m writing this blog post from the Synod office, where a clergy day on pastoral care is getting underway. It’s raining and everyone has gotten a slow start, but shortly we’ll get down to business sharing and learning from each other about how to be the best pastors we can be.
Continuing education is a big part of clergy life, and I’ve realized I perhaps don’t do as much as I could to explain to the congregation why this is and how it impacts the people in the pews. There are several different kinds of continuing education events. One is the kind that I’m doing today, where we gather for a morning or for a day to focus on a particular topic. Another is a longer course where one travels and stays onsite to delve deeper into a subject; I did a class like this back in June, when I went to Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg for a week-long intensive seminar titled “Indigenous Perspectives on Salvation, Reconciliation, Peace, and Justice.” A third kind of continuing education is the retreat, which is perhaps more self-care or formation than education; I went on a silent retreat in February. My CREDO experience in North Carolina last month was a combination of the second and third categories, containing time for reflection and learning as well as for rest.
In 2019, it is also increasingly the case that we can take advantage of distance learning opportunities such as online courses; the Dio course on Matthew, which the parish is taking together, is also a chance for me to brush up on my knowledge of the Gospel and learn about the latest scholarship.
For clergy to keep up with our continuing education is important for our professional development, to keep our knowledge fresh and up-to-date. It also helps us to stay healthy by caring for ourselves so that we don’t burn out, and, in what can be a very isolating profession, giving us the chance to spend time with colleagues who understand what our work is like. This enables us to keep doing our jobs capably and joyfully. The information we gather can also be applied directly to the parish context, for example, as All Saints’ lives into its identity as a “Reconciling” parish, what I learned in Winnipeg in June is and will continue to be relevant (which is one reason I chose that course in the first place).
My letter of agreement (contract) with the parish stipulates that I have three weeks of continuing education time every year. This is distinct from the four weeks of vacation (including Sundays) and the week after Christmas, which is provided as additional “recovery” time. Continuing education is work, not vacation, even if I’m traveling for the purpose!
This may seem like a lot of time away, and on one level it is; but in the long run, keeping the balance between time in the parish, continuing education, and rest, is part of the sustainability of our ministry together. I keep track of my hours (roughly) and right now I have 42 hours – just over a full week – of “overtime” or comp time accumulated.
I hope this brief summation has helped to clarify what continuing education is about and how it fits into both my professional life and the parish’s life and ministry. As always, I am more than happy to talk further to anyone who is curious!