Are You Ready to Celebrate? Paid Parental Leave Coming to a Church Near You

IMG_6167The irony is not lost on me that during the sabbatical year that I insisted was not a maternity leave I wrote a paid parental leave proposal. It was for my local United Methodist Church, a 200-year old “flagship” church that steers its wheel by committee

People pressed me to be patient, repeatedly.

We submitted the proposal during Holy Week and then waited for the stone to be rolled back. We waited, waited some more, and finally heard word this Monday that a policy had been passed. You can find it here.

I shrieked. I fist pumped. I called almost everyone who offered their voice in the proposal to say “cheers” and absolutely no one picked up. It was perfect.

The idea had been germinating since the adoption of our three girls became final last July. I was already planning to take a year-off paid work and my husband Rush, who works on staff at said local church, decided to take twelve-weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. We were giddy for time off together to grow belonging — and anxious for what no salary for three months meant for our bottom-line.

We had enough savings that the sacrifices were small. Wine would now come from boxes. Clothing would now come from Goodwill. Television would now, sometimes, come from our actual television. All the while we tithed on our former, now non-existent, income.

It was already end-of-year pledge season by the time Rush returned to work, and I began to notice a small, stinky, wormy feeling burrowing in my gut. You might have called it “bitterness” or “resentment.” I called it sadness because I imagined I’d get more sympathy that way.

We were sad that a large, progressive, entrepreneurial church like ours didn’t have a paid parental leave policy in place to compensate Rush and so many other non-pastoral staff for time taken to care for chosen kin (One for clergy exists in the UMC Book of Discipline.) Over the next few weeks, that wormy feeling began to grow into something more mature. You might have called it “peace” or “piousness.” I called it moxie because it sounded more fun and energized me to find a way to fund future leaves for staff in similar positions.

So, with nothing but time and curiosity, I contacted my friend and gender justice advocate, Katey Zeh, for her advice on how to get started. She sent me this article and this sample policy. I met with a member of our Staff Parish Relations Committee who said the next step was to write a proposal for their consideration. I e-mailed our clergy and interviewed a handful of staff and thought it sounded like my kind of nerdy fun to write it all up in such a way that someone might actually enjoy reading it.

In the end, everyone I talked to was for it. (Duh. There’s overwhelming support across party lines for these policies.) We argued a paid parental leave policy for our church would further align its family values with family policies, continue to draw and retain the best and brightest staff, and make for a competitive benefits package with other area employers. To boot, we showed that not only do these policies save employers money in the long run but, in many cases when replacement workers are not needed, they do not effect the short term bottom line.

I’m first-in-line to question American Christianity’s idolatry of the nuclear family – which made me wonder if a proposal like ours was only stacking the deck for the childfull. While the policy that ultimately passed was a parental leave policy, our proposal advocated for a family leave policy that would also cover care of spouses, children, and parents with serious medical conditions in keeping with FMLA guidelines. And, while we’re at, couldn’t we also include care of close neighbors and unlikely strangers? Jesus, we noted, did not privilege those with children over those without; instead he emphasized the need to care for our most vulnerable, young and old alike.

But you know what? Especially during this election week, I think Jesus would remind me, like civil right activist Ruby Sales once did, that celebrating the small victories is a spiritual practice. I love it when my church does right by its people, and I want to celebrate when your church does, too.

I’m always looking for a reason to tap that boxed wine.

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