Just Wondering

Outdoor labyrinthFaithful readers:  I’m wondering what your institution’s policies are about Study Leave.

In my denomination, Study Leave is required for all pastors.  The minimum requirement is two weeks and $700 in my Presbytery, but those terms are common nationally.  As a spiritual leader’s experience increases, the church might offer the same time (2 weeks) but more funding (at least $1000.)

According to assorted manuals I’ve researched, study leave is not vacation.  There is an educational and spiritual refreshment component.  Among the common study leave practices are:

  • Long-range planning and preparation for worship, Christian Education, and mission.
  • Meeting with established clergy groups who share sermons, spend time with a theologian, and/or pray together.
  • Taking a class in an area to broaden skills in a particular area – either for a degree or certificate or for one’s own enrichment.

After over thirty years of professional ministry, I’ve been blessed with an array of solid Study Leave opportunities.  I’ve taken specific courses on preaching, for example.  I’ve earned a Doctor of Ministry in Christian Spirituality.  I’ve attended conferences.  I’ve hidden in a cabin to chart out the upcoming year.  I’ve met with The Preaching Roundtable – a group of 16 clergywomen for 13 years.  While I’ve always reported my study leave activities to the board of elders, I’ve never asked permission to take a certain course or make a certain plan for those two weeks.

So, here are my questions for you.  (I’m asking both clergy who take Study Leave and church members who are impacted by your pastors’ Study Leave):

  • Are two weeks and (about) $700 sufficient for your needs?
  • Do you tend to take classes/attend conferences/workshops close to home?
  • Do you run your plans by the personnel committee before Study Leave?
  • Is Study Leave the same as Professional Development (i.e. can your Personnel Committee assign certain activities for your Study Leave?)

I would love to know your experiences.  Thanks.

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6 responses to “Just Wondering

  1. I served a very generous small congregation. When we re-did/created our Manual of Operations the personnel committee was granted the power to approve study leave/vacation AND report those actions to the session.

    After 3 years, I asked for an additional week of study leave and received that without any push-back. Learning is critical to my well-being in the church. One of those weeks became a silent retreat.

    In the presbytery I just left, the largest church (800 members) had the lowest amount of study leave ($500). In the area I served, you needed a much larger budget for study leave due to being isolated. Most of my events involved at least 6 hours of driving (one way) and/or a plane fare/hotel/conference. In a large metro area, that may be quite different.

    We had many pastors who did not take their full study leave and/or vacation. Some cited money but most cited they didn’t feel they could take that time. The COM was working hard to change that culture…of the ethos of the clergy/CRE and with increasing study leave expenses…with very slow results, I am sad to say.

  2. Thanks Elaine. Really helpful.

  3. I got my study leave increased to 3 weeks and $1500 a handful of years ago when tight budgets kept making a raise difficult. As our churches continue to decline financially I suspect pastors will be treated more like school teachers. Cont Ed is a good trade off: it costs very little to replace us for another week or two and the time for sermon planning and simply reading, as well as travel and seminars, is worth a lot to pastors!

  4. I am ELCA and expectations are $750 from the congregation and $1000 out of pocket per year for continuing ed. That being said one event which involves flying somewhere can wipe the budget out asap. I alternate years I use the $ for a trip, and smaller, shorter, closer to home seminars.

  5. When I served in Cascades Presbytery (in Oregon), the minimum was $1500, which I realize now, is pretty amazing. If Presbyteries set a minimum, I think that for the most part, that is what churches are going to give, even if they might be able to give more.

    With $700 that we get from Presbytery of Chicago, I’m pretty much limited to events in Chicago (which, luckily, there are many) – or I need to save up for a year or two to be able to do something.

    I’m not in a position, nor do I think it’s appropriate, to pay “out of pocket” for my professional continuing education. I know pastors who have talked about needing to pay significant amounts from their own money to attend an event – and I just can’t do that.

    If I wanted to go to a 4-5 day event (or even a week), my $700 will be blown on the hotel alone. That doesn’t even include airfare (if necessary), food, other travel expenses, etc. So on $700 I need to stick to local events in areas where I have friends who I can crash with – which is enjoyable to a degree, but I like to have my own space (a hotel room that I can crash in) for events like that.

    I’m very appreciate of the fact that there are some additional funds available in our Presbytery if you know about them and apply to get them…and I’m also lucky that I’m pretty well connected so I’ve been able to get free housing sometimes, or free or comped registrations to events, but that’s not the norm.

    I’m honestly not sure what people expect a pastor to be able to do with $700. I do think that it would be great if churches could offer another week or ConEd if they can’t do more money.

  6. I’m United Church of Canada. Our minimum is 3 weeks of study leave and an allowance of $1300. My own church gives me 3 weeks and $1600.

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