Since being ordained and especially since being an incumbent I have been interested in the factors that contribute to clergy wellbeing. Whilst there are some similarities with other professions, it seems to me that there are stresses and strains that we experience as clergy that are unique to the role and can be insidious. In my careers prior to ordination I can’t remember people being off work with stress, but I have known very many priests who have experienced this, and this has concerned me. I wanted to speak to people who would understand this better from a psychological perspective and who have the experience of speaking to many clergy.
Consequently, I interviewed ten people who work in Dioceses across the Church of England in roles where clergy wellbeing is their focus. My questions were about what helps and hinders clergy wellbeing and what can be done to improve things.
The greatest stressors were seen as isolation and being part of the caring profession with no pastoral supervision and no line management. Other stressors are the impacts on the family of living in the public sphere, society becoming increasingly anti-church, clergy feeling inadequate due to lack of relevant training, financial stress, the stresses of living in tied accommodation and poor responses from the property departments, the stress of the Clergy Discipline Measure and Safeguarding, the huge amount of conflict and bullying that clergy deal with and pressures from the diocese in an environment when the church is extremely anxious.
The recommended solutions included: Non-managerial pastoral supervision; clergy to attend Reflective Practice Groups; greater levels of psychological training in theological intuitions, during curacy and beyond on subjects such as self-care, counselling skills, interpersonal skills, managing groups and dealing with difficult people; senior staff to create a culture change from competitive overwork to self-care and dioceses to look after the clergy houses properly and produce literature and websites on how to find support.
I found all this fascinating, and I wanted to put it in the public sphere so that we can talk about this issue together.