Editor's note: We received a lot of great feedback from our previous post about Pastor Sarah's maternity leave, and so, we are continuing on in a series. A part of the correspondence we had with different pastors was the need to talk about paternity leave as an option. So, Pastor Christopher Drew, who pastors Stevens Road United Baptist Church in Darmouth, has graciously agreed to share his story of how he went on paternity leave, what that meant for the church he was working at during that time, and what that meant for his family. Thanks again to Pastor Chris for a candid and caring story.
About ten years ago today, I was getting ready to take twelve weeks of parental leave. I want to tell you that the reason I did it was to be a modern man, set a pastoral example, or to demonstrate how devoted of a husband and father I would be, but all of that would be stretching the truth. The reason my wife and I decided that I would take parental leave was entirely economic. I was working as the full-time associate pastor at West End Baptist Church in Halifax NS, my wife, Meghan, was working full-time at home as a daycare provider. She was looking after our almost two-year-old son and four other young children. We realized that she would not qualify for maternity leave, and if she shut down her daycare even for a few months, it would cause hardship on the families depending on her and put us in a difficult financial position. A few months into the pregnancy, we made the decision that I would take leave.
The conversation I had with my lead pastor and the deacons was interesting. You could say that I caught them off guard with my request to take leave. Pastor Nolan, a father of two children himself, was supportive of the request, for which I am still grateful. The board was concerned that the ministry I oversaw, primarily ministry with youth and young adult ministry, would suffer during my leave. They were not wrong in having those concerns; I had them as well. Young adult and youth ministry both tend to grow slowly and are fragile things. Over the past three years, West End had seen real growth in both of those areas, and they did not want that growth to be lost. We took two months to come up with a proposal of what this leave could look like that met my family’s needs and addressed the ministry concerns.
First, the chair of deacons reminded the board that the question at hand wasn’t whether I could take leave. I was entitled to it under the law, but what the leave could look like. What we worked out was I would take 12 weeks of leave, beginning what our daughter was born. The church would top up my leave to 95% of my normal salary. I would volunteer back about 10 hours a week at the church. That volunteer time included youth group and young adult prep time at home, and overseeing youth group nights, and some Sunday morning involvement that required little prep work. After a few conversations, the board was very supportive of this plan. I had been working for years to make sure the youth group leadership team could function with or without me on any given night. They were all capable of planning games, gathering supplies, and leading bible studies allowing me to have more of an oversight role most weeks than a hands-on leadership role.
On the home front, Meghan and our daughter Ariella were able to get the rest and mother-daughter time a newborn needed while I did my best at running ‘daddy daycare’ in the mornings. When I compare the first three months of our first child’s life and the first three months of our second child’s life, I would say that taking the leave allowed me to enjoy this period of time instead of just surviving it.
I won’t pretend that this is a model for how pastoral parental leave should look. A lot of the aspects of the leave were unique to our circumstances and the kind of ministry. Volunteering time was something I wanted to do. Attending West End each Sunday morning was something I wanted to do. What I will say is I am glad I had the leave. My relationship with my daughter benefited from it, my relationship with my wife benefitted from it, my relationship with my son benefited from it, and in the end, I think the ministry benefitted.