When I was young there was a story about a girl in our school who took off to spend a year going to school in England. I learned later that ‘spend a year in England’ was a euphemism for her family wanted her out of sight while she was pregnant and had a baby. This was a time when pregnant teens were less commonplace, and the family didn’t want her condition to be an embarrassment. Today, in one of our local high schools, the girls bring their babies with them to class. Not this particular time and place. It reminds me of Joseph in the Christmas story wanting to “put her [Mary] away quietly.”
I thought about this when Bill told me about Hank. Bill attended a church in a city about 30 minutes away, and I had heard that their pastor had been given a four-month sabbatical. Nice non-work if you can get it, I suppose. Now I realize there are some solid reasons why pastors should be cut some slack; recently someone posted five good ones. Personally, with the exception of two days in August at a cottage where it seemed the phone never stopped ringing with issues back at work, my wife and I have not a break at all since October, 2012. Heck, I’d check into a local motel right about now just for the experience of sleeping in a different bed and using the inn’s soap and shampoo. We’re not picky.
But for Bill, the problem was that Hank was a local farmer who had worked his tail off for 46 years without any significant vacation. And the argument that “pastors are on call 24 hours a day” just didn’t cut it with a farmer who had both grain crops and livestock. Who worked 16-hour days, six and a half days a week.
The theory was the next generation would take over. In practice, the three boys couldn’t wait to get off the farm. After high school they went into trades that were more tech-based. Nothing to do with agriculture. No cows, no corn in their futures.
Bill wasn’t even on the church board. He was just a guy that Hank thought could explain sabbatical to him. And Bill was caught in the middle, knowing that pastors take sabbaticals but also realizing that Hank would never quite get it.
“You mean we’re still going to be paying him?” he asked Bill.
“Yes,” Bill said, “He still gets his salary.”
And when Bill told me the story, that’s when it hit me. While there’s no shame in taking a break every seven years, Bill’s pastor needed to borrow a chapter from the girl whose family wanted to disguise the nature of her absence.
“Hank,” I would say, “The pastor’s going to help out a church in England. It’s sort of a mission trip.”
Except that would be a lie.