What Do Vicars Do All Day?

Recently, someone asked me, “What about ministry, exactly, makes it so stressful? Is it all the counseling you do for people and their crises?”

“Well, the majority of what I do actually isn’t counseling,” I tried to explain. It’s hard to explain the stresses of ministry to someone who can’t imagine it intuitively.

Before I could say more she asked, “Well, then, what is the majority of what you do?”

I stammered, imagining that she wouldn’t think I do much, if I had so much trouble finding an answer.

Do other professions have this problem? As I’ve written here before, sometimes ministry feels like a vocation where you do a lot of what looks like nothing. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like I do SO many different little things, that not only is there definitely nothing that I can say constitutes “the majority of what I do,” there are some days where I was terrifically busy, but at the end of the day I’m not sure exactly, what it was that I accomplished or did?


In about 2011-12, I tried to make an inventory of my job description. In part, this was because I was exhausted all the time and trying to stop doing so much. In part, this was because, despite that, I felt as though I wasn’t working hard enough and I needed to prove to myself that I was. (That crazy list is posted here, if you’re interested in wading through it. I’ve made a few updates over the years, but it’s basically the same.) As a result, I started giving away some tasks that I’d assigned myself to my lay leaders and secretary. And I (mostly) stopped worrying about whether I was doing enough.

Pastors can never do “enough,” of course. It’s probably the same for nurses, teachers, social workers, college presidents, and members of Congress, among others.

But I would like something to tell people when they ask me: “What’s a typical day look like?” or “What’s the majority of what you do?” or “What do you do all day?”

Perhaps I should make little cards printed with my ordination vows, to hand out as needed:

  • to take my share in the councils of the Church
  • to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to fashion my life in accordance with its precepts
  • to love and serve the people among whom I work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor
  • to preach
  • to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners
  • to pronounce God’s blessing
  • to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood
  • to perform the other ministrations entrusted to me (ah, the famous catch-all!)

(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 531)


Then, the vows go on to elaborate:

  • to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come
  • to respect and be guided by the pastoral direction and leadership of my bishop
  • be diligent in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, and in seeking the knowledge of such things as may make me a stronger and more able minister of Christ
  • to minister the Word of God and the sacraments of the New Covenant, that the
    reconciling love of Christ may be known and received
  • to be a faithful pastor to all whom I are called to serve, laboring together
    with them and with my fellow ministers to build up the family of God
  • to pattern my life and that of my household in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that I may be a wholesome example to my people
  • to persevere in prayer, both in public and in private, asking God’s grace, both for myself and for others, offering all my labors to God, through the mediation of Jesus Christ, and in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit

(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 532)

It’s a pretty fantastic job description! But it’s a bit long and elaborate for use in ordinary conversation, isn’t it? Perhaps I could sum it up this way:

  1. Offer the Sacraments and Rites of the Church (Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Weddings, Burials)
  2. Preach and Teach
  3. Offer Pastoral Care and Help the Needy
  4. Administer the Congregation
  5. Participate in Your Diocese and Listen To Your Bishop
  6. Maintain a Healthy Spiritual Life (prayer, Bible study, healthy and wholesome living)

That would fit on a little card much more easily. On a day-to-day basis, I do at least one, and usually more, of these things. Or, if I’m not actually doing one or another of the items on this list, I’m preparing to do so. i.e., study, planning, emails, etc.

For yet another take on my job description, here’s a word cloud that I made with the aforementioned List of Everything I Do:


The big words sound about right!

  • plan
  • coordinate
  • attend
  • prepare
  • leadership

It’s somewhat hilarious that the cloud includes:

  • meetings (the biggest word, it seems to me!)
  • Lent (the largest cloud on the horizon for most clergy)
  • email
  • phone
  • and funerals

I’m relieved and happy that the cloud found these in my list:

  • Bible
  • “our”
  • hospitable
  • serve
  • study

I don’t know about you (and this post may bore those who aren’t church geeks or clergy), but writing this post has helped me figure out, yet again, what my job description consists of and what it is I do all day.



Oh, and I also blog! And sometimes write books. 


  1. Alas, don’t forget we need you to rest and rejuvenate. Equip yourself so as to equip others – that put the oxygen mask on yourself prior to helping others sage advice.

    You do ministry well.

  2. Great post, Heidi! LOVED the word cloud!! Ha! As well as the whole exercise of summarizing what it is that we actually do in ministry. So glad we met today!