Clergy Recruitment

In her research on clergy wellbeing Lesley identified that clergy in ill fitting posts felt less well. It is anecdotally known that parishes would turn down the Archangel Gabriel for being under-qualified and for my study I looked at how parishes advertise for new incumbents.

When I worked in industry HR provided me with a list of competences and told me that when recruiting I could choose three. That way I had to be very clear about what I wanted and when interviewing could determine whether the candidates had those three competences.

If more competences are listed some people will think that they don’t meet them all, while others will think that they match some and apply. This can lead to the wrong candidates applying in the first place, because they do or don’t fit the most important competences. My aim in the study was to come up with such a list of competences for use when churches were looking for a new vicar. My report and the associated lists are here and if you would like to use the them you are welcome to do so.

When doing my study it came to my attention that on average parishes were asking for over eight competences; I also noticed that many of the parishes which in my opinion find it difficult to recruit listed fewer competences, and spent more of the advert “selling” the post to the potential candidates, mentioning the location and quality of the vicarage, the quality of the local schools, and the proximity to nice countryside.

Neither of these are helpful in encouraging the right candidates and only the right candidates to apply.

Living in the goldfish bowl

Diocesan Counsellors are there for both clergy and their families and many of the counsellors talked about the stresses of ministry life on those living in the Vicarage. One issue is trying to coordinate days off – I wrote about that here. Yesterday Jules Middleton wrote about the issues she faced when she first was ordained:

My first two years of ordained life were strained as I tried to suss out a good pattern of life for us as a family in this new season.

Read on to see how she resolved this. I think sharing struggles and ideas in this area is important, every family will be different, but there must me some common strategies that work. Below are some of the issues that the counsellors highlighted:

Clergy inhabit a role – being the ‘vicar’ – and in general people de-role before they get home. However, living in the vicarage makes it more difficult to de-role, making clergy marriages difficult. In addition, clergy are effectively married both to the church and to their partners, this is complex and needs to be managed well.

In the conservative wing of the church some clergy wives can be desperately depressed – intelligent, capable women being told their place is at the kitchen sink.

Vicar’s children are often casualties and can end up with very serious mental health problems, these are some of the causes:

  • They haven’t had their own emotional needs met because the needs of the parish are so demanding
  • The parent is absent because the office is at home – quite acceptable for the parent to pop back into the office at 7:30pm after dinner and remain there for the rest of the evening (it wouldn’t be acceptable if they had a regular job)
  • Teased at school, treated differently to other children, expected to be either very good or very bad
  • They don’t feel like they belong
  • The parent may not have the language to speak to their children about these things and the child will not volunteer it, after all it is to do with the parent’s job, their only source of income and their home
  • The parent coming to the child’s school to do assemblies is embarrassing
  • They are forced to go to church, the parent is putting up a front of being a perfect Christian with a perfect family and the child is used as a pawn. This leads to them feeling angry and resentful and feeling they have to perform
  • Moving around (eg theological college, curacy, incumbency) leads to difficulty with attachment and friends
  • People in the congregation may be being horrible to the parent and the child knows this as it is discussed at the dinner table, leads to a difficult relationship with the church
  • A lot of unacknowledged trauma in the priests gets manifested in the children, the children are exhibiting what is not being said

There is hidden harm being inflicted on clergy children and it seems that no one is talking about it.

I haven’t found much material in this area, perhaps I have just failed to find it. Assuming it hasn’t been done the impacts of ministry on clergy kids really needs to be researched, alongside the impacts on clergy marriages.

Photo attributions: KoiQuestion and Mad Ball

On not being a mug

This is a guest post from Jules Middleton.

This week, eminent classicist Professor Mary Beard tweeted:

Can I ask academics of any level of seniority how many hours a week they reckon they work. My current estimate is over 100. I am a mug. But what is the norm in real life?

As you might imagine, the antagonistic joy that is Twitter produced starkly mixed responses – there is no norm in academia and there is no norm for clergy either. Add into that abnormality, being a wife and mum as well as a full time minister and you got yourself a seemingly unsolvable equation and perhaps the biggest stressor in this clergy woman’s life.

My first two years of ordained life were strained as I tried to suss out a good pattern of life for us as a family in this new season. I still get it wrong quite regularly but in those early days I realised for me there were two key areas to delve into – the first being my own passion for my calling, leading me to want to do more and go further than was realistically sensible. I wonder if this is where Mary Beard is coming from, clearly someone who is passionate about her work, and I know many clergy who work hours approaching hers out of their passion for what God has called them to.

I never want to lose the passion for what God has called me to but I have realised that I have to be reasonable in my estimations of myself. God has not called any of us to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of The Church and I feel as much called to be a wife and mum as a minister. Christopher Ash writes in his book ‘Zeal without Burnout’ about sustainable sacrifice, suggesting that we are called to go on giving to God throughout our lives and we can’t do that if we burn out. I’ve found that really helpful as a concept, especially as there can be an element of The Church that wants to sanctify the sacrifice of excess hours and I genuinely don’t think God is calling any of us to do that.

The second area that was important for me was recognising my lack of role models – it’s hard to know what is best when you can’t see anyone in a similar situation to you. My clergy colleagues were generally male, older, with wives who did most of the house stuff and there was only one other woman in my diocese in the same position as I was. What I saw was those around me working very long hours, because they could, and because the pressures on their time were far more limited than on mine. I could not keep up with that but I also didn’t know how to work out my own model of working. A few years in I’m so grateful for conversations with other ministry mums who have offered advice and suggestions, and for a husband who encourages me but also gently pulls me up when my sacrifice is becoming unsustainable.

Clergy well being is not just about us doing what is right for us – sure we bear some of the responsibility – but if we want to be better as a church then we need to look out for each other, modelling to each other sensible, and sustainable ways of doing ministry. We’re all in this together for the glory of God’s kingdom.

Revd. Jules Middleton

I carry an inhaler everywhere, I take an antidepressant every morning. Big deal. . . says Justin Welby

The Church Times reports that at the mental health workshop at Lambeth Archbishop Welby recently said:

“I carry an inhaler everywhere, I take an antidepressant every morning. Big deal. . . They are two sides of the same coin.”

I like very much that Justin is modelling openness and showing that there is no shame in acknowledging depression and that help should be sought. I struggle with the analogy with an inhaler though. I too carry an inhaler everywhere, I have a respiratory disease that is only getting worse, and there are some forms of depression that are perhaps similar – caused by brain disease or injury or chemical problems. But most depression is caused by the environment we find ourselves in and the stuff we are carrying.

I worry that it is us Anglicans that have made Justin’s work so toxic that he has been overloaded with stress. If that is the case then the inhaler can stay but the antidepressants should be temporary as we amend our ways and repent of what we have done to our archbishop.

I am reading a book by Paul Swann called “Sustaining Leadership.” and he has a lovely analogy of the place of pain becoming a place of healing:

It’s as if we each carry a weighty rucksack that we fail to notice, because we have enough strength to carry it and enough busyness to be distracted from it. Then circumstances bring it to our attention and force us to begin to deal with what we have been carrying.

The circumstances may be physical or mental breakdown and suddenly we can’t carry on in the same way – we have to perhaps spend hours in therapy to unpack the rucksack and from that point on we have to take seriously the reality of self care.

Self care alone isn’t enough though. Paul Swann was broken by his strenous ministry. Peter Selby was Paul’s bishop at the time and writes:

Looking at my former ministry, I ask myself, in gladly appointing some of our strongest people to the hardest tasks, are we as aware as we need to be of the particular support and resourcing needs that such colleagues have? Or do we just hope that the talented and the committed will find their own way of avoiding burnout? That goes along with a more searching question: how well are we ourselves modelling self-care?

I think he is right – bishops do need to model self care. In addition, we as an institution need to review the environment we are putting our clergy in, from the archbishop to the brand new curate, to work out how we can better love one another as God loves us.

Why do vicars burn out? (Part 2)

This post about burn out follows on from yesterday’s post. The three dimensions of burnout are:

  • feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job
  • a sense of ineffectiveness
  • lack of accomplishment

The risk factors that contribute to burn out are:

  • workload
  • control
  • reward
  • community
  • fairness
  • values

Yesterday I looked at the first three of these in the context of parish ministry, here I will consider the remaining three. Quotes that I use are from here:

The area of community has to do with the ongoing relationships that employees have with other people on the job. When these relationships are characterized by a lack of support and trust, and by unresolved conflict, then there is a greater risk of burnout. On the contrary, when these job‐related relationships are working well, there is a great deal of social support, employees have effective means of working out disagreements, and they are more likely to experience job engagement.

Vicars experience a great deal of conflict and bullying. I’ve written about the latter here and here. There are difficulties with resolving conflicts as sometimes dysfunctional people exist in congregations who are toxic and their behaviour would not be tolerated in the workforce or any other organisation.

Fairness is the extent to which decisions at work are perceived as being fair and equitable. Cynicism, anger and hostility are likely to arise when people feel they are not being treated with the appropriate respect.

There are areas, especially around finances where clergy feel badly treated. Realistically, clergy need some form or income other than the stipend to afford a house to live in after they retire, and it is their partners who mostly provide this. At the same time clergy work very long hours and are weary most of the time such that they aren’t as active in the family as they might want to be. Other areas of unfairness are when clergy are trying their best to serve their parishes – living very sacrificial lives as a result of their vocation – and they are met with gossip and slander.

Values are the ideals and motivations that originally attracted people to their job, and thus they are the motivating connection between the worker and the workplace, which goes beyond the utilitarian exchange of time for money or advancement. When there is a values conflict on the job, and thus a gap between individual and organizational values, employees will find themselves making a trade‐off between work they want to do and work they have to do, and this can lead to greater burnout.

In some ways this should be an area that helps clergy and I think it often does – the church is broadly aligned with their values, at least on the surface. But often parishes and vicars are working on different models of what the vicar is and should do. One comment from the clergy survey explains this:

Parish opportunities with those unchurched are enormous but our structures / patterns and traditions of Sunday worship / church expectations of what a vicar does are crippling and demoralising. I trained to show and give the love of God to the people of this parish, not support outdated models of ministry that support church goers.

What can be done about all this? Probably quite a lot if we start talking about it. I will share my ideas on this blog – please share your too.

Why do vicars burn out? (Part 1)

First of all we need to define burnout, whilst it has a rather hazy definition in common parlance, amongst psychiatrists there are three distinct factors:

The three key dimensions of this response are an overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.

The risk factors that contribute to burn out are also well researched and known. They are workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values. I will explain each of these in turn and how vicars might be vulnerable to them. Quotes that I use are from here :

Work overload contributes to burnout by depleting the capacity of people to meet the demands of the job. When this kind of overload is a chronic job condition, there is little opportunity to rest, recover, and restore balance. A sustainable and manageable workload, in contrast, provides opportunities to use and refine existing skills as well as to become effective in new areas of activity.

I have already written about the problem of work overload here. 41% of clergy I surveyed said that they always or most of the time felt overwhelmed by the workload.

A clear link has been found between a lack of control and burnout. On the contrary, when employees have the perceived capacity to influence decisions that affect their work, to exercise professional autonomy, and to gain access to the resources necessary to do an effective job, they are more likely to experience job engagement

On the face of it this should be an area where clergy thrive because there is so much autonomy. However, it is being eroded by diocesan pressures to do various missional initiatives and sort out the finances. Then there are legal requirements to comply with measures to do with the buildings, employee regulations, safeguarding procedures and data protection imperatives. Insurance, PATesting, other electrical checks, asbestos surveys, gas checks, requirements to ensure hall bookings are meeting best practice, various policies, quinquennial inspections, safe recruiting requirements, Charity Commission requirements, PCC meetings, AGMs, appraisals… I could go on… I’m not sure that when all these are done there really is much autonomy.

Insufficient recognition and reward (whether financial, institutional, or social) increases people’s vulnerability to burnout, because it devalues both the work and the workers, and is closely associated with feelings of inefficacy.

Recognition and reward is very low for vicars – obviously the financial reward is low, and in the current climate the social reward is also low – vicars are regularly mocked and religion is considered to be at best daft and at worst immoral or evil. In terms of institutional reward there is very little – senior staff try their best but they are very stretched and diocesan staff are often making demands, not giving rewards. Parishes can also be tough – vicars are likely to hear when things are going even slightly wrong and there are precious few souls who are encouragers. I was really struck by this comment on my clergy survey:

It is extremely difficult to manage parishioners’ expectations.  Their sense of a glass half empty rather than half full is a constant preoccupation.  I frequently feel inadequate to their standards and there is little comeback. I now have some exceptional people who are turning back the tide of slander and negativism but some minds are very set in judgement.  In the midst of this I’m loved by some but it is hard to get the balance.

Are Bishops Still the Pastors of the Clergy?

Most priests look to the bishop as their pastor. The bishop ordains and licenses clergy and these moments are profoundly meaningful. Each year most bishops ask their clergy to come to the Maundy Thursday service and renew their vows together, there is a sense of shared vocation and mutual respect. The clergy know that the Bishop sees their work as an extension of his or her work, because at the licensing service they are told “Receive this cure of souls, which is both mine and yours”. The Bishop has a staff as his symbol of pastoral ministry. The expectations are set up in all these highly symbolic moments.

However, the pastoral care of clergy is delegated to the archdeacons and the diocesan counsellor and in some dioceses it is also delegated to the Area Deans. Yvonne Warren, in her paper for general synod writes:

This sense of working in partnership with the Diocesan can then be totally lost. There needs to be a real in-depth rethink about whether the primary role of a Bishop of a diocese is still to oversee and care for their clergy or whether this role is obsolete. If it is then there needs to be real thought as to who within The Church has that care and oversight. It is because of this lack of clarity that so many clergy feel dislocated and displaced by The Church they seek to serve and trust in.

There is a sense that bishops would like to spend more time working with their clergy but the other duties preclude it. Could some of these duties be removed? Could we make all suffragen bishops area bishops, so that within that area that bishop does ordain, license and pastor their clergy, restoring the sense of pastoring and partnership? The area bishops could be cover the same area as the archdeaconries, giving good continuity between archdeacon and bishop.

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