Balmoral: Summer Holidays, Trips and Getting Away

April 6th, 2017

I’m back with some more musings from across the pond. A few more fun British factoids and maybe a bit of English slang. This time I want to talk about Balmoral, summer residence of the royal family for the past 165 years and what it has to do with youth ministry.

As part of my attempt at adopting the ways of my new nation, I too have joined in with the near obsession that is the royal family. If you find yourself in jolly old England at just about any time you will see crowds of tourists clamoring around Buckingham Palace to catch a glimpse of the changing of the guard and hear hushed voices wondering if she (Her Majesty) is in there? The answer is usually yes, but you are not likely to catch a glimpse of her walking the Yorkies around by the front gates.

Following the Example of the Queen

During the summer holiday, however, Her Majesty retreats with Yorkies in tow up to Balmoral. Set in Aberdeenshire near the village of Crathie in the center of Scotland (Thanks, Wikipedia!) I once heard a tourist ask a little too loudly what exactly the Queen does. His question was met by a very proud older British man who exclaimed, “She is the standard of the Empire!” Well, better them than me asking I guess.

That idea, however, got me thinking about the example the Queen sets. Everything she does is under the microscope because as she does a standard is set for her people to follow. So nearly every July and August she leaves the business of Buckingham and London behind and heads north to Balmoral for some much deserved and needed rest and recuperation.

If you have spent any summers in youth ministry you may find yourself in quite the opposite position. For me, the second kids finished school and started their summer holiday I had to kick it into high gear. There were the summer weekly programs that needed to be planned and run. I needed to know what role I was playing in the drama for VBS (why do they always make the youth director the comic relief!?), and I had to get all the preparations made for the summer mission trip because 30 kids crossing international borders is not as easy as it looks. Then at the end of summer, we had our big summer camp which we ran completely our self, making me the speaker, lead counselor, games coordinator, worship leader, nurse and emergency van driver.

The point is that summers are busy! Often when everyone else plans their family vacations we are planning what’s next up for their kids when they get back. We, however, must fit our vacations in somewhere else (mission trips are not vacations kind-church-lady-who-asks-me-how-my-time-off-in-Mexico-was). I even remember one summer adding up the number of nights I slept in my own bed between June 1 and August 31, and it was 16.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not complaining. Summer is often my favorite season in ministry. I get to travel, spend a lot more time with kids and get a nice tan…well, sunburn. However, I find myself at the end of summer often wondering where it went and how on earth am I going to get ready for the start of the school year and programming kickoff? Beyond that, I often find myself wishing I had more time with my family and friends. More days spent at the beach reading a book or going on a hike through the woods. Instead, most of my free days in the summer were spent catching up on sleep and laundry.

She is the standard for the Empire. Maybe Her Majesty has it right, though. Maybe in the middle of all the craziness what we really need is a nice holiday for our normal life. I may be busy, but if I had to guess my schedule is probably not as busy as hers. The pressure to run a great summer camp, a fun water balloon fight or a mission trip in which all kids safely make it back without any major injury is high and what we do is incredibly important. But is it as important as being a head of state and running a country? Well…yes…I mean I think so, but if the Queen can manage a little deliberate R&R this summer then maybe we need to follow her example.

As you prepare for your summers and all they hold can I make a few recommendations for you?

First, summer starts in January or maybe even sooner.

I often try to plan my ministry with a 6-12-month overview when it comes to programming. Knowing what is coming up, what is coming around the bend, and what is after that often helps me to approach each activity and obstacle with enough time to think critically and practically. I often like to have a calendar of everything I am doing in the year and then working my way back I put in key blocks of time to work on those things ahead of time. Great mission trips and summer camps don’t happen by accident. We make them a possibility by bringing thoughtfulness and organization to what we do. The truth is most youth workers I know seem to be constantly rushing from one event or activity to the next often running them on the fly without the opportunity to really give them their best. Don’t our kids deserve our best?

Second, it’s okay to not sit behind your desk whenever you’re free in the summer.

Some youth workers I have known feel an immense pressure to still fit in their office hours in between all the summer activities. I am not suggesting don’t get your work done (in fact you hopefully have a lot of your summer desk work done and are working on September), but summer has a different rhythm to it and so your work patterns might need to change for you to be at peak productivity. Maybe for you, that means taking your laptop to the beach, to a coffee shop patio or even on your lap in your own bed. I find that my head is just not in the same space in July as it is in January and I may work better with a little sunshine on my face rather than in my cubicle. I also understand that for some of you this may seem like an impossibility, your church or even your senior pastor may not like the idea of you working out of office, but take the time to explain what you need and why you need it. Show them all you do during the summer and what you must do to get ready for next year. Explain to them how you work and how these rhythms will help you do your best work, then make sure that is exactly what you do!

Finally, have a holiday.

June to August is summer holiday for all the people that matter to you! Take some days off and be with them. You don’t necessarily have to do anything. You spend the whole rest of your summers being a doer planning and running everything for everyone else. I bet what the people closest to you want is you! Be present and with them. Thinking of them, talking to them, living with them, and enjoying life! If Her Majesty can set aside state visits, royal decrees and wearing extravagant hats then you can set aside a few days of youth ministry to just be. God bless and enjoy Balmoral.

Denny Burda is the Senior Youth Minister at St. Paul’s Howell Hill in the United Kingdom. After over a decade in youth ministry in the States, Denny, his wife Merina and their cat Elliott followed God on their big adventure of a new life in a new culture.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.