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:
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).
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?
There have been many reports and surveys about clergy wellbeing over the past few years. I have listed them here. The one I found most interesting is by the Salisbury Diocese who have done a set of three surveys across the time they have been working to improve the wellbeing of their clergy. They are from 2008, 2012 and 2016. In the latest report they find that the overall number of clergy recording positive states has dropped from 62% in 2012 to 52% in 2016 and in particular the wellbeing of parish priests (incumbents, priests-in-charge, team rectors and team vicars) is significantly lower, with only 41% recording positive states. They go on to say:
“The most profound change is that there has been a shift from a dominant correlation of positive factor ratings with positive wellbeing in 2008 and 2012 to a dominant correlation of negative factor ratings with negative wellbeing in 2016. If we assume that the correlation indicates a degree of cause and effect, then it would suggest that there has been a shift amongst the Diocesan clergy from a prevailing positive, optimistic attitude, where positive feelings about various aspects of their life engender a positive feeling of wellbeing, whereas negative feelings have little effect one way or the other, to a prevailing pessimistic attitude, where negative feelings about things engender a sense of lower wellbeing, whereas positive feelings have little effect. In a sense, the glass is no longer half full, but half empty. The reason for this shift is not clear, but it could go some way towards explaining the negative shift in wellbeing noted above.”
I interpret this to mean that whilst there are many sacrifices and difficulties in ministry, on the whole clergy have looked at the amazing privilege of ministry and thought it is all worth it, whereas now that has changed. It set me wondering why this should be so. There is a clue in another report – the Experiences of Ministry Survey 2015, which as some interesting charts:
It is worth focusing on the stipendiary figures as they are most likely to be the parish priests who are feeling their cup is half empty. The sacrifices are being made quite often – a few times a week, but in the chat below it shows that the sacrifices are felt to be ultimately worthwhile less than once a week.
The report goes on to say:
Figure 3 and 4 shows the levels of sacrifice frequency and the sense that sacrifices made have been worthwhile over the two years. Further analysis of the data shows that sacrificial behaviour is positively associated with the measures of clergy engagement in ministry and also in some of the reports of growth. However, high levels of sacrificial behaviour is also found to be related to lower levels of clergy well being, which questions how sustainable high levels of sacrificial behaviour may be over the longer term.
I just wonder whether we are now in the longer term – clergy have been working so hard for so long and it is unsustainable?