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How ministers can plan a good parental leave

By Trisha Elliott

Congregants and ministers want a healthy ministry and leave experience. Here are some tips to help keep it positive.

1. Know the process

Adam Hanley, The United Church of Canada’s program co-ordinator for ministry personnel vitality, advises ministers who are anticipating going on maternity and/or parental leave to be clear about the process and their eligibility for benefits before they begin the conversation with their personnel committee and treasurer. In his capacity as national staff, Hanley says that he helps ministers and congregations to understand the process. Conference personnel ministers should also be able to offer good procedural advice and best practices.

2. Initiate good communication

Open dialogue is key to maintain-ing healthy relationships between ministers and congregations while planning a leave. Here are some helpful questions to consider: How involved in congregational life does the minister plan to be while on maternity or parental leave? How will shared expectations around leave time be communicated with the congregation? If conflicts arise while the minister is away, how will they be handled? How will the leave impact other staff members, and what conversations need to take place with them in anticipation of the leave? What responses can the personnel committee give to congregants who speak negatively about the minister going on leave or begrudge benefits?

3. Seek financial advice

“I think one of the most stressful parts for the pastoral charge is understanding the top-up payment,” says Hanley. According to United Church employment policy, employees on maternity leave will receive 95 percent of their weekly rate of pay for 17 weeks. Mothers and fathers on parental leave also receive top-up benefits. Hanley has developed a tool to help treasurers understand how to calculate top-up payments and other financial processes. The document, “Calculating Maternity and Parental Leave Top-up,” is available on The United Church of Canada’s website.

4. Develop a return-to-work plan

Some congregations want the minister’s family to be present; others believe their presence detracts from the minister’s work. Likewise, some ministers long for their children to be active members of the congregation, while others find their own children’s presence distracting. What’s more, varying family circumstances and congregational supports for families (like a fully staffed nursery) are a factor. It’s important to share expectations where family is concerned.

5. Value family and church

How congregations receive the news that a minister is expecting, their attitude toward leave and the provisions that are put in place for childcare all speak to how well the church walks the talk of family values. Strong congregations seize the opportunity that a pregnancy presents to demonstrate a commitment to families. In the same way, thoughtful ministers demonstrate their care for the congregation by supporting them through the transition.

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