This Tuesday Top Ten is inspired by some questions I received from colleagues in planning for maternity/paternity leave from their churches.  Especially for female clergy, but also for male clergy expecting children this is often uncharted territory in negotiating with a congregation.  Here are some tips from my experience, which was fantastic, in negotiating, planning and having support from your congregation:

1. Have paid family leave in your contract.  If it is not currently, negotiate for it at the next possible time as your contract allows.  Even if you’re not planning on having children for many years, even if you are single, have it in your contract so that you are ready.  Start with your denominational resources (for American Baptists, the Ministers Council has a great document to start).  Negotiate at least 6 weeks of paid leave with the option of adding your vacation time to it.  Paid leave means you are paid your salary and housing allowance as well as your retirement plan–it does mean the church does not have to provide for mileage or other reimbursements in that time.

1B.  I’m adding an extra tip here for fathers.  Generally speaking it is much harder to negotiate paternity time.  As of yet I do not know a congregation that gave more than a week of paternity time for expectant fathers.  Plan to negotiate 2-3 weeks of paid leave with the addition of vacation time. However, see tip #3 for adopting if you are an adoptive father.  My husband was in part-time ministry and although he did not get paternity time, he did negotiate five Sundays off that particular year instead of 4 and took all of his vacation time after the baby was born, so he was home with us for four weeks.  It was a blessing for our family!

2. The church should plan on having paid pulpit supply during the paid time off, but most likely will not need an interim.  As the time nears, find a retired minister or colleague who can take any emergency calls and handle any funerals.  This way, the cost is minimal to the congregation (as we all know, budget will be a concern!) as they are not paying you anything extra, they are simply paying for more pulpit supply.

3. If you are adopting, you will need to have your plan for tip #2 ready well in advance.  Adoption can take years or happen in a matter of weeks or days.  Adoption can involve travel as well as court dates, so keep in mind that six weeks of paid leave may need to be broken up over the course of a few months.

4. Due dates are not set in stone!  Plan on starting your maternity leave  a week before your due date.  I had a wonderful OB who was an active member of her congregation and told me she knew how much ministers really worked and did not want me to have any stress near my due date and so she had my last Sunday be a week before my due date.  She also suggested that I not stand for very long (it was a very hot summer and I was due mid-July) so I actually preached the last few Sundays from a rocking chair, doing a more conversation-style sermon (it went over very well!)  Babies can come very early, or like mine, be two weeks late!  Also, be aware that some mothers are placed on bedrest or have other complications during their pregnancy.  Find out what your insurance and disability covers or doesn’t.

5. Negotiate coming back for part-time the first two weeks. You may have complications during your pregnancy, labor and delivery, or the new baby may have medical concerns.  Be flexible.  I ended up with medical complications after my delivery and was unable to come back full-time right away.  It is a good time to adjust being away from the baby as well.

6. When to tell and who to tell?

A. If you are adopting, this is a tricky question.  Because adoptions can take place quickly or over a long period of time, it is probably best to start with your denominational representative (area minister, regional minister, bishop, supervisor, etc).

B. If you are expecting, this is completely up to you, but this is how I decided: we only told close family and friends first.  We waited until after 12 weeks (the first trimester) before telling the congregation. The risk of miscarriage greatly drops after 12 weeks but it is not eliminated.  I have had friends who have told their congregations earlier than 12 weeks and everything has been fine.  It is a very personal decision about when and who to tell.  If you are part of a ministerial staff, you may want to consider telling your colleagues sooner than the congregation–it is easier to figure out schedules for vacation and leave that way, and it can help with the decisions around preaching and worship schedules.  Plus they can be in prayer for you and your family and the congregation beforehand.

7. Set your boundaries.  Decide who you want to know when you have had your baby or are meeting your child for the first time.  Decide if you want visitors in the hospital at all and who you want.  The nurses at the hospital are your friends on this one–if you say you want no visitors and want some time as a family, let the congregation know this but also make sure the hospital staff know as well.  Decide if you want visitors at your home and when.  My congregation was wonderful in setting up a meal schedule and bringing food to us in the evening, and they were asked to call in the afternoon to determine a time to drop off the meal in the evening.  When complications developed and I had to return to the hospital and then was at home for a while, a meal and visitation schedule was coordinated by a deacon who kept contact with us about who could come and when.

8. Determine a plan for child care and/or working from home.  Once I returned to full-time ministry from my leave, I decided to work two days a week from home.  These were not 9-5 days (when is a day in ministry 9-5 anyway?) but I worked around the baby’s schedule.  When the baby was napping, I worked on worship preparation or my sermon.  In the afternoons and evenings, I made phone calls.  I did all of my prep work and reading and phone calls from home so that when I was in the office I could be present to whoever or whatever needed my attention there.  Due to my baby’s schedule, I often did not begin to “work” until late in the morning, around 10 or 11 (even on the days when I went in to the office), but often worked later in the evening since my child was asleep by 8PM.

We were fortunate in that my husband was in part-time ministry and was able to be home more days so we did not have to send AJ to daycare or find a babysitter most of the time.  However, there were times when a church member became suddenly ill, or died, and I had a list of folks I could call for emergency child care, so I could go to the hospital or visit with the family in the funeral home if my husband was unable to get away.

It depends upon your baby, but for us, pastoral visitations were easy when AJ was an infant.  I was able to take him in his infant seat to visit people in their homes but also into the nursing homes.  My senior members loved seeing AJ and in the nursing home all the residents and the nurses enjoyed him.  I scheduled pastoral visitations on my days working from home once AJ was about three months old, after he had his 2-month shots and was more alert.  However, even when I scheduled visitations I waited until I knew I was coming out the door to call.  Babies can get sick, mess up their diaper, need to eat, or decide to sleep all in an instant and more than once I had to cancel a visitation and reschedule.  Luckily, most people are understanding about that and just want to see your baby whenever they can anyway.

As a toddler, visitations became much more difficult, as most homes are not childproof and my son wanted to get into everything, so I scheduled fewer visits with him and my husband and I reworked our schedules so I was only working from home one day a week in addition to my day off.

9. Sunday Care.  Does your church have nursery care during worship and Sunday school, fellowship time and other times?  If your nursery care is only available during worship you may need to find a volunteer to watch your child before or after to give you some time.  If you don’t have nursery care, you’ll need to find volunteers to watch your child.  At my church, we didn’t have regular nursery care so there was a list of women (I called them the “wannabe grandmothers”) who often watched my son before and during worship.  AJ did very well during the worship service, too, until about 17 months, right before I left full-time ministry, as as I’ve shared before in previous posts, I had to hold him on my hip the entire Christmas Eve service in 2009.

Have someone you can call to watch your child if they are sick, or have someone you can call in an emergency to fill in for you.  In a previous post titled “The Sunday Morning Sick-Child Dilemma” I wrote about the problems of having to be in worship and having a child sick.

10. It’s your baby, it’s the church’s baby.  You are going to have to set your boundaries as a family as to how much involvement you want from the congregation in your family life.  You will probably get offers for free babysitting.  You will probably have a shower thrown for you (9 times out of 10 it will be a surprise–mine wasn’t, but they tried at first!).  Let them–it’s a way for the congregation to celebrate as much as it is for you.  Just remind the congregation that they should be gracious to all new families in the church, not just you.  You will have people wanting to come see the baby after they arrive and you will have people wanting to give you gifts for the baby.  As your child grows you will have folks wanting to feed your child, sometimes foods they shouldn’t have at that age.  Have a plan for your boundaries, but also know that things will change.  You will become less concerned about what kinds of food your child eats as they get older.  You will learn how to graciously accept gifts and then stuff them in the back of the closet if they are not age appropriate or are obviously from a generation before safety guidelines were issued.

But first and foremost, you are mom and dad, parent and guardian.  You are the one who makes the decisions for your child.  You do not have to hand over your baby to every hand that wants to hold them (especially in the first few weeks, before the first shots and pediatrician visits).  Your child does not have to show up every week in a new outfit just because people in the church gave them to you (but it is nice to use the baby blankets, especially if they were quilted or knitted or crocheted, when you can).  You are the one who calls the shots.


I hope these tips are useful for first-time clergy parents.  Every family situation is different, but hopefully this will help in your negotiating and planning.  There are plenty of other things you will have to consider after the baby is born–whether or not you are formula feeding or breastfeeding (I breastfed for 13 months and planned pumping and feeding schedules around Sunday mornings and meetings–and as I shared once before, made sure there was a lock on my office door!), nap schedules (if your child will get on a schedule–not all do!) and especially for adoptive families, when to introduce the child into the congregation and whether to have a “Welcome Baby” celebration in the church.

You will also in the future have to figure out baby/child dedications and baptisms.  For my husband and I, being a clergy couple, we asked my colleague on staff at my church to do the dedication.  We have also decided that when AJ decides to be baptized we will have another clergy member do the baptism, as neither one of us can truly be his pastor as we are his parents.  But there are wonderful stories of minister friends who have baptized their own children and officiated at their weddings.  All of these decisions come down the road.  In the meantime, if you are expecting, congratulations!  And if you hope to be soon, hopefully this will be of some help in planning ahead.

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3 Responses to Tuesday Top Ten Tips for planning maternity/paternity leave from church

  1. J. Manny says:

    To follow up on your 1B: I negotiated with my church to have six weeks for paternity leave. I do not have kids, and am not planning on having any right now, but I thought this was appropriate since I do not know when my family situation might change. The church and its Pastor/Staff Relations Committee was really pleased to know that I was aware of situations like this, and they even wondered how this never came up with previous pastors. I would say to all men pastors out there, whether married/partnered, single, straight or gay: remember that you never know when you might want to start a family, and planning ahead to have this time is an important thing to do and a great way of teaching your congregation that you value families, starting with your own.

    • Rev. Mindi Rev. Mindi says:

      Manny, thank you for posting and I’m glad you got a full six weeks in your contract! I hope that more men are able to negotiate family leave in their contract and get the full six weeks. Unfortunately a lot of churches have a long way to go. Thanks for sharing and hopefully that will encourage men and all people who may consider having a family someday to include family leave in their contracts.

  2. […] enter pastoral ministry, it is time to rethink our family/maternity/paternity leave policies.  I blogged my “top ten tips” for considering family leave for clergy and congregations last summ….  Please check out that post, along with your congregational and denominational guidelines to […]

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