Clergy wellbeing is a topic that is being widely discussed at the moment, and it is worth highlighting the recent reports and papers about clergy wellbeing:
Church of England has 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 can be found in here. They 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 can be found in here, they 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 paper on clergy wellbeing – GS2072 highlighted the need for a Clergy Covenant for Wellbeing to address some of the issues that clergy are facing, that formed the scope of the research, they are summarised here and form a good overview of the issues.
In 2019, the Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing – GS2133, was presented to synod and passed, the covenant is summarised here, with excellent recommendations including non-managerial pastoral supervision, IME training and realistic role descriptions and expectations.
In addition to these reports by the Church of England, individual Dioceses have also been doing work on wellbeing and have been surveying their clergy. The most significant of these is 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 less, 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.”
A similar survey by Ely Diocese analysed the words clergy chose to describe their ministry, 44% used more positive than negative words, 18% used equal numbers of both and 38% used more negative than positive words, which correlates to about a 53/47% split between positive and negative words. However, when asked whether they were flourishing in ministry on a scale of 1 to 10, only 17% scored themselves 5 or worse and 67% scored themselves 7 or better.
Experiences of Ministry Survey conducted by Church of England Ministry Division and Kings College, London have 300 people who have completed the 3 surveys in 2011, 2013 and 2015
The conclusions are:
✓ Around 90% of clergy agree that their role is intellectually, spiritually and emotionally demanding
✓ Many clergy groups work very long hours
✓ Administration and organisation are the activity the spend most time on
✓ The vast majority of clergy are both highly engaged in their ministry & do not report substantively high levels of burnout
✓ Sacrificial behaviour is positively associated with the measures of clergy engagement in ministry but also with lower levels of clergy wellbeing (questioning how sustainable high levels of sacrificial behaviour may be over the longer term)