Do priests and pastors need an office?

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Christianity today has a recent article on pastor’s offices.  It has something of a provocative title, that comes across even as a little accusatory – “Six Reasons Many Pastors Don’t Need An Office Anymore.”

 

Where I’ve encountered it in social media it has largely been decried by pastors who are seeing it as an affront and are suspicious of its intent to devalue their ministry further.  However, the author himself, Karl Vaters, has a slightly less inflammatory purpose;

“If you have a church office and it works for you and the church, by all means keep using it. This isn’t about convincing anyone to give it up. But if you don’t have one, or if you spend as little time in your office as I spent in mine in recent years, here are some reasons why you may not need one at all.”

 

The “reasons” are more like observations about changing ideas of work in the wider culture as well as some challenges about how pastors might envision their work.  The six are;

  • We’re more mobile now
  • People don’t drop by as much as they used to
  • Offices cost too much
  • An Office can reinforce a punch-the-clock mentality
  • An Office can stifle creativity
  • An Office can isolate us

 

You may find your office a refuge and can’t imagine giving it up; others may experience it as a weight around their work, stifling their creativity.  It’s also a list that makes more sense in an urban or even suburban setting, where there are things like coffee shops and abundant free wifi.

 

I’d also say the cost of the office is a specious argument, especially in the Episcopal Church.  Vater writes;

“Land is expensive. If your church is blessed to own or rent a building that you have 24/7 access to, you are in a dwindling group of churches – even in rural areas.

 Because of the rising cost of real estate, we have a greater obligation than ever to use our buildings wisely and efficiently. In our church building, most of the rooms, including the offices have been or are being converted from person-specific to task-specific.”

Most Episcopal churches have offices already and they don’t have large enough (or maybe even any) staff whose work spaces would need to be converted in the manner described.  Nor are most churches well suited to rent out space to other non-profits.  I also suspect most of our churches don’t really need more classroom space.  In other words, the space and its consequent energy are already baked in.  Though, if you are building or remodeling; it might be worthwhile to discern how the space you have might be best employed.

 

One of the perks of my position as a rector is that I am provided with a very nice office.  Actually, it’s too big to be an office, it’s more of a study which is not the same as a library (that’s across the hall).   I have air conditioning, internet access, a printer, I even bought a Keurig coffee maker – I really have no reason to leave.  (I use a re-fillable filter)

 

But that’s kind of what bothers me.  I worry that I’ll be too tempted to hole up in here and not go out into the world where I’m supposed to be – sharing the Good News and making visible the invisible hand of God.  And at its heart, that is what Vater is getting at in his article.

 

Having an office feels a lot like settling in and settling down.  This is hardly an original thought, but Christianity like the Judaism from which it sprang, seems its most authentic self when it is on the move, on a pilgrimage.  The Israelites were promised a land of milk and honey – but both of those are things you get on the hoof and not things you get by making permanent camps; they’re the food of nomads and not of farmers. Jesus himself said that the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.  If the church is truly the body of Christ, shouldn’t we be at least a little concerned that we have nice comfy pillows in big fluffy beds on which to lay our heads?

 

Ultimately, it comes down to how do your work habits and spaces further your ministry?  Does an office help you build up the kingdom of God or has it become a hiding space?

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David Skidmore
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Maybe the parish doesn't need a church building let alone an office for the rector. If disciples need to be on the move, modeling their ministry on the first disciples, then the infrastructure can be an impediment to spreading the Good News. Perhaps return to the house church of the first century Christians, a place to rest and reconnect for the journey.

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Member

Clergy are still an important first point of contact for persons in emotional distress, both for problems we would consider diagnosable, and those that are more stresses of normal life. To that end, a cleric needs someplace to meet with a person in confidence. I grant that for some a corner in the local coffee shop will do; but for those who need more quiet and more security, there needs to be a private place. There is still enough stigma associated with mental health issues, and enough anxiety about being able to talk in confidence, that the need remains.

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Daniel Lamont
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Daniel Lamont

I entirely agree. However for people in distress the business-like atmosphere of an office maybe unhelpful so that somewhat less clinical might be more satisfactory.

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Daniel Lamont
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Daniel Lamont

Writing from Scotland, I would suggest that the cleric doesn't need an office but the parish does. It would house all the office equipment needed to run the parish and it would possibly staffed by volunteers or a part-time administrator and used when necessary by the cleric. What clerics need is a study which houses their books, personal items etc and is the place where they can pray, think, read, write homilies and withdraw from distractions. When I was still working as a university academic, I had an office in the university and a study at home. The study is a domestic private space for study while the office is a business space with a different function. I must admit my conception is based on growing up in a large (and draughty) Victorian English Rectory with the classic clerical/academic/headmasterly study which was a male space (my mother had her drawing room). I am not suggesting that we reproduce that.

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