Fight for Maternity Leave

I’ve got three kids. Three kids is SO MANY KIDS. (I know that there are many serving in ministry who have more kids. And you are amazing. Look:.  you’re amazing if you have one. Or two. Or nine. Or none. Let’s just agree everyone is amazing, unless they actively undergird the systems and policies that maintain the patriarchy… they are not amazing.)

Two of my children were born while I was employed full time at my church. Many who’ve been in ministry a long time know that churches are notorious for being bad at HR (human resources). If you’re like me and are a United Methodist, your church is legally supposed to have an entire team dedicated to human resources issues called SPR, which stands for Staff-Parish Relations. If you’re not United Methodist, then hopefully your church has some sort of committee that helps guide decisions in regards to policies, job descriptions, evaluation processes, and your rights as an employee.

In 2008, I requested to meet with the SPR committee to discuss how we would handle my maternity leave following the birth of my second child. They held a meeting without telling me and with no one in my corner except the written proposal I’d submitted in advance, I was told to use any sick and personal hours I’d accrued in my (at that time) 4 ½ years in my position. I had no chance to speak out for myself, and as far as I can tell from reading the minutes of the meeting, the decision was made after just a few minutes of discussion. I stretched my PTO out as long as possible but was still back in my office part time after only 3 weeks. I sobbed the entire first few hours I was back at work.

So in 2014, I became pregnant with a surprise, yet very welcome, baby. In early 2015 I decided I would absolutely NOT be treated the way I had been in 2008. I prepared a proposal for my maternity leave, and set a time to meet with SPR. The entire committee had been changed over, as had our pastor. I knew my chances were better with a woman at the helm of our church, but I still decided to make a stand for myself, and for any future church employees.

As a woman in ministry, you must be familiar with “the massage.” No, ew, gross. Not that kind of massage. I mean the massaging of egos, of wording, of our approach that we all do in order to be taken seriously. So I proposed a “Family Leave Policy.” It wasn’t just for me, but for any employee of any sex or gender identity who needed time off for family matters. Birth (for either parent), adoption, death, long illness, emergent situations, crises… whatever.

And SPR got it. They understood that no one person’s life is immune to these important events that deserve our time. If churches say they love families, they can prove it by treating their employees’ families as worthy of time away from work. If you need to approach your committee, I highly recommend this method. They may not understand maternity leave (have they forgotten they were once born themselves??!), but they will grasp the concept of being allowed time for a seriously ill relative. What your church’s policy will end up being may be different than ours, but any acknowledgment of your circumstances by getting paid time off is better than none at all.

In August of 2015, six weeks after William Maxwell’s beautiful birth in the tub at the birth center, I was back to my office, baby in tow, feeling like I was respected as a full human being who happens to be employed at a church. My ministries survived, and the Kingdom stands.

Also, stay in bed for a week after you give birth. You’ve got a wound the size of a dinner plate on the inside of your body.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

ABOUT MARESI: Maresi Brown has been in ministry for 15+ years at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has also taught in private preschools, as well as in the public schools. She has a bachelor’s degree in Music Education (class of 2000) from Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA. Maresi grew up in small town Connecticut with her mom, dad, brother, and sister. She loves her husband, her high schooler Henry, her elementary schooler Maria, and her preschooler William. She knits obsessively because she might as well have a hobby that matches how old she feels most days. Maresi believes that black lives matter, that LGBTQIA+ persons are of sacred worth, that guns are a scourge, and that peace on earth is possible.

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