Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Day 5 - Study Leave, why?

Grapevine says that some folks are at a loss as to what study leave is and why I'm on it. That's an easy enough question to answer.

Traditionally, UU ministers had summers off to study because the expectations of our intellectual capabilities were very high and because congregations were able to do alternative programs in the summer. Or so the lore goes in this neck of the woods. One friend tells me that they had no AC at his church, so they closed the church and called it study leave. Another said that it was the 8 week period you were allowed for psychological evaluation and rebuilding. Tomato, maytur, whatever.

At our church in Richmond, summer services were predominantly lay led for many years. The minister was expected to work almost ceaselessly throughout the church year, leave in June to go to the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and then return some time in August. Ministers were also given a paid sabbatical every seven years or so which lasted between 6 to 10 months.

These days, the study leave is often less generous and sabbaticals are no longer a sure thing. The general rule is that General Assembly to mid-August is still paid leave for the minister with the expectation that the minister hits the ground running in August to kick off the church year. At least so it remains in Richmond.

There's a catch, though. I have been at First UU for five years. I have had at least five titles in that time and have worked between 12 hours a week and full-time, depending on the title. I have been the only minister, one of three, and one of two. Last year I worked full-time, but it was at two churches. (And people wonder why I am a little loopy? It is because I can't remember my newest title or newest colleagues.)

Why the constant change? I am a contract minister, not a called minister. I was asked to serve during a time of sudden transition five years ago, but did not go through the search process. Since then, there have been subsequent ministerial needs and I have filled them. But I have still not been "called" to serve the congregation. (In order to call a minister, the position has to be clearly defined, approved, budgeted, and long-term.)

As contract minister, I fill the needs and the needs often arise in the summer. The result is that in five years at First UU, I have never had a study leave. I was out for less than three weeks when my daughter was born (not a great time for study) and I am ineligible for sabbatical. My partner in ministry picked up on this and worked so that I could have my first study leave... now. Yay. Hope that explains things.

Back to our program already in progress.

Day 5 of study leave I learned that I have been UU too long. In looking through my daughter's Dora the Explorer Old Maid deck I thought she had lost the Old Maid card. There was Dora as athlete, skater, conductor, pirate, biker, witch, princess, cowgirl, apple picker, lifeguard, dancer... but no Old Maid. Ten points to you if you have to look back over that list to find the Old Maid card.

I learned that even when you watch one third of the movie in fast forward mode, Sofia Coppolla's "Marie Antoinette" is an abomination illustrating everything that is wrong with entertainment obsessed America and she should never be allowed a budget over $800 for a movie again. (Word up to Molly Shannon, Jason Schwartzman, and Rip Torn, however. You did what you could.)

I learned that the Eagles are harder to sing a cappella to a wandering grandma with Alzheimer's than you would think. I learned that I have a petty jealousy of able-bodied people who can just up and start running. And I learned that eighteen years is not long enough to be married, so I am re-nupping with the man. Happy Anniversary!

Reading: Finished that '04 McSweeney's issue. More of the book with the outrageously long title. Today's paper. A Kroger's coupon flyer full of able-bodied smiling people embarking on their fitness routines with verve. It burnt nicely in the fireplace. A Sesame Street book about Big Steps at bedtime.

Yeah, I know. If you had study leave you would be reading much weightier things, teaching yourself Portuguese, doing daily Tai Chi, and finishing your novella. But we would not like you anymore and no one would tell you when that great band was playing or when the crab dip goes on sale.

Doing it for the crab dip, darlin'.

No comments: