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Learning how to draw the line

15 July 2016

Pat Ashworth explores resources aimed at improving clerical well-being, and finds a new emphasis on self-awareness and mutual support


Riding for a fall? Tom Hollander as Adam Smallbone in the BBC sitcom Rev

Riding for a fall? Tom Hollander as Adam Smallbone in the BBC sitcom Rev

THE clergy’s job is arguably harder than it has ever been. There are fewer of them, they are spread more thinly, and, like teachers and doctors, are not esteemed in the way they once were. Parishes have high expectations of them, as they have of themselves. They can be isolated in their work. Many speak of a lack of affirmation that hurts. And the unremitting pressure of email and text has been added to the round-the-clock availability that trad­itionally depended on phone calls, or a knock on the door.

They know what they should be doing to avoid anxiety, stress, and burnout. The message from the Guide­lines for the Professional Con­duct of the Clergy 2015 is that clergy should “put down appropriate bound­aries”. They should never for­get that their marriage is also a vocation. They should “guard them­selves against becoming victims of harmful levels of stress”. They should take care of their physical well-being, and have someone out­side work to whom they can turn for help.

Equally, the guidelines spell out the responsibility of the Church: notably, that “care for the carers” is fundamental. A survey in 2013 by St Luke’s Healthcare for the Clergy — formerly St Luke’s Hospital for the Clergy — revealed that, while 40 per cent of the 500 clergy surveyed de­­scribed themselves as “positive and energised”, 12 per cent de­­scribed themselves as struggling, or barely coping. More than half of those surveyed had received no training in understanding the pres­sures of clergy life, or managing stress, either at theological college or in post.

Most significant of all, perhaps, was the finding that 85 per cent of dioceses relied on clergy with any emotional problems to come forward themselves. “You might have a sympathetic archdeacon, or you might not, but this is the person who’ll be doing your ministerial development review; do you really want to expose your vulner­abilities?” one cleric responded. Another remembers being asked by a suffragan, “How is your spir­itual life?”, and, on beginning, “Well, I do morning and evening prayer. . .”, was met with “Oh, good,” and the ticking of the box.


THE outlook is changing, and re­­sources are increasing. Prevention is considered to be better than cure, and good practice in theological colleges is acknowledged to be where it starts. The Revd Dr David Heywood, director of pastoral studies for the residential commun­ity at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, and author of Reimagining Ministry, reflects that what the world thinks of as work/life balance is, in theo­logical terms, about acknowledging the importance of sabbath.

”This is a hugely busy place, like most theological training institu­tions, and we’re very aware of our need to provide a model of a good balance. We regularly reflect with staff that we are not always giving the example we try to give, but that’s our aspiration,” he says.

The leavers’ course on orienta­tion to ministry includes sessions on “A marathon, not a sprint”. “We look at the complete lack of any time-boundaries in ministry, apart from the ones you choose to put in place. This is the job that never finishes,” he says. “And then we look at the expectations you can never meet: the ones that come from training incumbents and con­grega­tions, and the real killer: the ones you put on yourself.”

His most fruitful tool for discus­sion is a case example from the book Public People, Private Lives, by Jean and Chris Burton (Mowbray, 2009). “It’s the vicar who got tickets to the Test Match, was going with his teenage son, and was then asked to do the funeral of a close associate.How did the students think he should have responded? The quality of discussion was great,” Dr Hey­wood says. “They were very realistic, and made some sharp decisions. This guy, as a represen­tative clergy person, needed to have under­standings in place with both the family and the congregation as to how this tug-of-war was to be man­aged: it was something you could not realistically get a good out­come from without preparation.”

Time management is among other stress-preventers taught at Cuddesdon: “working to priorities, being proactive, but also being prepared to be reactive”, Dr Hey­wood says. “My training was a long time ago, and I was never taught any of this. It’s just wisdom ac­­cumu­lated over 20 years in min­istry.”


TEACHING ordinands to be aware of their own Achilles’ heel comes as early as induction week, the director of pastoral studies at Trinity College, Bristol, the Revd Sue Gent, says. “Students are given an indica­tion at the very beginning that ministry can be a rocky road, as can training, and that the way to deal with this is to face up to the issues and seek help. And to ensure that appropriate counselling help is in place, as well as tutorial and pastoral support.”

With a background in the legal world and the City of London, she is aware that students from the business world in particular have come from an ingrained culture of not admitting vulnerability. “There can sometimes be a fear of how their sending dioceses are going to perceive this,” she says. “We really do our best to allay that. I have never found a diocese that has not agreed to pay for appropriate counsel­ling support when needed — and responded that this is the mature thing to do — which is very encouraging.”

Ordinands at Trinity do con­textual training and summer place­ments throughout their time at the college — “really learning off their supervisors and their clergy in relation to caring for themselves”.

How to avoid stress is part of a care module that expressly raises the questions of boundaries, emotional pressures, and expectations. The college has an Anglican formation programme which looks specifically at clergy stress and accountability. Students are encouraged to have spiritual directors, and to find their own Rule of Life. A non-assessed leadership programme, run jointly with CPAS, includes material on the pressures of leadership, and there are programmes for married stu­dents and spouses.


THE St Luke’s survey found that 47 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 had received some training at theo­logical college on the pressures of clergy life — a figure that dropped to 25 per cent of those aged 55 to 64. But only 18 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 were receiving training in their current post, and only 26 per cent of those in the higher age category.

St Luke’s Healthcare for the Clergy is at the forefront of engage­ment with the psychological well-being of clergy. Jan Korris has been a psychotherapist for 30 years, and acts as a proposer and adviser for St Luke’s, helping dioceses to set up their own schemes with local facilitation.

She believes that, although clergy must embrace self-care, the Church has an equal responsibility to sup­port and sustain them. She quotes Bishop David Walker’s contribution to the book Clergy in a Complex Age, that a state of well-being is “doing normal and doing it well”, and that “those who are called to the most regular and intensive pastoral work will almost certainly benefit from having supervision in the form common to the coun­selling world.”

St Luke’s offers two core re­­sources to dioceses. The Reflective Practice Groups have been available in one form or another since 2005, when Mrs Korris helped to set up a scheme with the Archdeacon of Sherborne, the Ven. Paul Taylor. Groups of six clergy meet once a month for a two-and-a-half hour session with external facilitators — often trained psychotherapists or counsellors — who are funded by St Luke’s for the first year. The aim is to help clergy to develop skills that improve their emotional well-being and reduce stress. “What they bring to the group is what’s on their mind at any time they meet. It’s most likely to be a ministerial issue, and almost always it’s relational things,” Mrs Korris says.

She continues: “It’s personal sometimes, too, which is fine. So if you’re concerned about your elderly mum, and the fact that she might have to go into a home, this is a valid thing to come and talk about: how is this affecting your ministry; what are the extra strains upon you; what can you do to ameliorate some of them? The groups are not cosy, they’re not talking shops, and they’re not just for complaining about your bishop. It’s about change: what in your ministry would you like to do differently?”

Confidentiality is key — “Our understanding is that clergy will not allow themselves to be vulnerable if they feel it is in any way going to be reported back” — and the groups are independent of the diocese. Clergy get affirmation too, which Mrs Korris suggests (citing a curate who lamented that none of her senior colleagues had been to one of her services or heard her preach in two years) many do not get in their day-to-day ministry.


THE other core resource offered by St Luke’s is Resilience Training. Here, Rob Archer uses a cognitive behaviour model to help clergy look look at what stress is normal, and what leads it to become chronic. “His position is that we all have stress at times, but we need to find recovery behaviour and to realise that we can make choice and change,” Mrs Korris says.

Seventeen dioceses have taken up Resilience Training, and are now inviting Mr Archer back under their own auspices, and at their own expense. St Luke’s has completed the set-up for three dioceses, and is at the exploration and induction stage with Liverpool, Chichester, and Cornwall. Other dioceses have set up reflective practice groups under their own auspices, including Bath & Wells, and Exeter.

Julia Barrett is the pastoral care and counselling adviser for Exeter diocese, and chairs Anglican Pastoral Care (APC) — formerly the Association of Anglican Advisers in Pastoral Care and Counselling. She has been running peer-support groups in the diocese since 2003. “People were coming to the coun­selling service looking for help with personal and work-integrated stuff, and were quite reluctant to finish, because what they were getting
was somewhere to reflect on their work,” she remembers.

”What was needed was some kind of supervision group. Isolation is one of the key factors in clergy stress, and that is particularly true in Devon.” It takes time to change the culture in the clergy world, she acknowledges, but senior staff in Exeter encourage clergy to go into reflective practice groups, proven to be effective in helping doctors, nurses, and social workers. They are enormously valued here: one parish priest said: “I always have a tinge of disbelief when I come here. I have looked for something like this for so long.”

The part played by APC’s pas­toral care and counselling advisers varies from diocese to diocese. The association makes it clear that advisers need to be embedded in the diocese, have all the local networks and con­nections, and can work with other diocesan staff in a connected way. Acknow­ledging that small groups do not suit everyone, they offer a range of support relevant to clergy in dif­ferent situations, includ­ing individual mentoring where ap­­propriate.


JUDITH KNIGHT is the head of hu­man resources (HR) and safe­guarding in Gloucester diocese. She has been in the job since 2008, when common tenure came in, and has 40 HR counterparts in the C of E. Dioceses with HR people on their senior staff teams have an overview of local situations that might be caus­ing stress, she suggests: for example, the death of a child at a local school, or large-scale redun­dancies.

Practical, professional, pastoral, and spiritual care combine here in a holistic model that includes occupa­tional therapy, and clergy also have access to the diocesan profes­sional counselling service. The diocese works with consultants who will engage with individual clergy con­fidentially, and are able to support them on leadership and well-being in general.

They are also used, Ms Knight says, “in situations when clergy really have got themselves in a pickle and can’t see a way out. It’s an additional pair of eyes and ears, away from an archdeacon or a bishop.”


Further resources:

THE Sheldon Community (also known as the Society of Mary and Martha) in Devon has spent more than 30 years quietly developing effective support for the clergy and/or their spouses. They are ready to help in a crisis, but also great believers in the value of preventative care and resourcing, offering retreats, “12,000-mile service”, an emer­gency bolt-hole, clergy holidays, and more.

Their latest project is the Sheldon Hub, a “comprehensive one-stop online resource by people in ministry for people in ministry”, for which they are currently recruiting testers before launching formally next year. www.sheldonhub.org

Sheldon Community: www.sheldon.uk.com

St Luke’s Healthcare for the Clergy: www.stlukeshealthcare.org.uk

Anglican Pastoral Care: www.pastoralcare.org.uk

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