Category Archives: Solutions

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whether the primary role of a Bishop of a diocese is still to oversee and care for their clergy or whether this role is obsolete.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.

Lots of Interest in Clergy Wellbeing

Something that I am really grateful for is the interest that there is currently in the wellbeing of clergy. Below is a summary of some of the reports that have been made available:

The Church of England has commissioned a ten-year ‘Living Ministry’ research project, directed by the Ministry Council and informing the national programme of Renewal and Reform by exploring how ordained ministers can flourish in ministry. In June 2017, the first report was published entitled ‘Living Ministry – Mapping the Wellbeing of Church of England Clergy and Ordinands’. The overarching question addressed by the research is: ‘What enables ordained ministers to flourish in ministry?’. ‘Flourishing in ministry’ is understood to consist of the two interrelated aspects of:

  • Wellbeing (flourishing of the person) and
  • Ministerial outcomes (flourishing of ministry).

The main findings include a finding that living accommodation tied to one’s post or training is reported as less adequate and more stressful than non-tied accommodation. Single people reported higher levels of isolation than married people. Barriers to vocational fulfilment included expectations or demands of others (particularly where gifts and skills were not recognised or utilised), an overload of day-to-day ministry tasks and churchmanship differences between the ordained minister and their context of ministry.

In September 2018 the second Living Ministry report was published, entitled ‘Negotiating Wellbeing: Experiences of Ordinands and Clergy in the Church of England’. The findings include: times of transition are particularly stressful for clergy; clergy struggle to establish boundaries around their work in terms of time, space, thought, activity, relationships and finances; it is important for clergy to feel valued by the Church, particularly in the context of financial and attendance pressures combined with high profile national growth investment.

In 2017 a General Synod paper on clergy wellbeing – GS2072 highlighted the need for a Clergy Covenant for Wellbeing to address some of the issues that clergy are facing. Some of the issues that formed the scope of the research include: self-management, preventative education and training, supervision, coaching and reflective practice, stress, counselling and mental health, anti-clericalism and bullying, clergy housing, Ministerial Development Reviews, pensions, the increasing perception of “doing more with less, the Clergy Discipline Measure, safeguarding and capability.

In 2019, the Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing – GS2133, was presented to synod and passed, the document recommends including non-managerial pastoral supervision, IME training and realistic role descriptions and expectations.

Of course all these reports will be of no value unless things change. I believe things have to change both from the top down and from the bottom up… We need dioceses and the Church of England to take all this seriously and through policies, culture change and training make differences. We also need clergy to take this seriously, and through self-care and speaking about it openly we can make a difference too

The Benefits Of Honest Praise

One of the counsellors that I spoke about clergy wellbeing to said that it is really important to talk to lay people about encouraging the clergy. I slightly ignored what she said – I guess I wondered who might talk to the lay people – is it the clergy? How would that sound?Praise me… Encourage me… I’m not needy, honestly! Mmmm.

Two things have made me come back to the words that she said that I discounted. The first is an article entitled, ‘Appreciation: A Pastor’s Emotional Fuel’, in it the author says:

For some strange reason, people tend to be silent about positive changes in the church until something goes against their grain. In many cases the result is that the pastor becomes tentative, uncertain, and feels overworked and underappreciated.

Gary Gonzales

The article is worth reading in full – he talks about two issues ‘The Omnipotent Pastor’ when he was trying to live up to impossible expectations and ‘The Invisible Man’ where he was working really hard but people in the congregation were complaining that they didn’t see him and there was the hurt of rumours circulating. He got to the end of himself ans then this happened:

It was hard, but finally I brought the issue before our board: “I can’t do everything people seem to expect. I am a limited human resource. I need your encouragement, counsel, and help—and everyone else’s, for that matter—if this ministry is going to function as it should.”

That frank admission prompted several months of positive, productive dialogue with the board. We discussed my role, but also the unique strengths and weaknesses of each board member. We sought specific ways to nurture one another’s personal growth. Each elder ended up with a terse, well-written job description that was the product of group process, and hence, we all sensed we were part of the ministry.

It made me realise that often we struggle on without seeing the help of the PCC (in the case of Anglican Churches).

The second thing that made me think about appreciation is a book I’m reading at the moment by Martin Seligman called ‘Flourish‘ who finds that you can tell which companies will succeed depending on the ratio of positive words to negative. He says that that ratio needs to be about 3:1 in business but in marriages it needs to be much higher – 5:1. The numbers don’t really matter, but it got me thinking about how we all can cause each other to flourish in churches – how kind words and loving attitudes make such a difference. And clergy are simply not immune to this. Perhaps we need to talk frankly about the needs of our clergy – or to be even more direct, perhaps as clergy we need to be much more willing to be vulnerable.

Drowning in Admin?

Something you often hear clergy bewailing is the level of administration that they have to cope with. In the Patterns of Priestly Practice report there is a chart that shows how much of a sense of calling and how much competence ministers have in different areas of their work. About admin it says:

Administration and organisation appears towards the lower ends of the list on both calling and competence. Further analysis showed that days when more time was spent engaged in this activity were also those when incumbents reported feelings of lower calling fulfilment, less positive mood, greater work-life conflict.

Sadly, the report also showed that administration and organisation was also the activity that took up the greatest amount of time, dominating every morning with the exception of Sunday. I was interested in how many clergy have competent administrative help and how many feel overwhelmed by administration, and these are two of the questions I asked in the wellbeing survey, of the 119 responses here are the results:

Do you have Competent Administrative Assistance (paid or unpaid)?

51% of clergy said they did have competent administrators, interesting almost all the people who have been in ministry over 30 years said yes to this question. Then below is a question from the survey about whether clergy feel overwhelmed by admin, the results have been further divided between those who have competent admin support (in red) and those who don’t (in blue).

Do you feel overwhelmed by administration (red blocks have competent administrator and blue blocks do not)

The presence of a competent administrator is obviously having a good impact on the clergy, although not completely solving the problem of admin overwhelm. It seems to me that it should be seen as a vital role in all parishes, in the same way as we need Treasurers and Wardens. So why doesn’t every parish have one?

I guess the question is how the post is paid for. Do dioceses take a dim view of parishes that pay an administrator but cannot pay Parish Share? Is it short-sighted to take that approach?

My interest in clergy wellbeing

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.