LIKE the coal miners of the 1920s who fought to gain paid time to wash before returning home, priests today need greater support to deal with the burdens of ministry, a reception at the House of Lords was told this week.
Jan Korris, a psychotherapist and trustee of the charity St Luke’s Healthcare for the Clergy, said that clergy were now operating in a “much more demanding time”, in a “culture that seems to be both goal-orientated and results-driven”, and with “little deference to authority”. She had been “somewhat surprised” to discover that clergy did not receive the same kind of support as others working in pastoral care.
Reflective practice for those who “work at the coalface of personal distress and fragmentation” was the equivalent of the time sought by miners to “wash off the grime in their daily work before they went home”, she said. There was a need for preventative services to build resilience and encourage priests to “put on oxygen masks before they attend to others”. They needed help to “hold on to the meaning and the joy that is the centre of their calling”.
The reception, hosted by Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, who has a 20-year connection to the charity, was in part an appeal for donations. St Luke’s receives no funding from the Church, and money is urgently needed, particularly as a short-term deficit has been approved by the trustees this year. The chairman, Edward Martineau, said that the “enthusiastic” take-up of preventative services, including resilience seminars and reflective practice groups, had been “greater than we had imagined”.
Besides providing 14 dioceses with resilience training, St Luke’s is currently helping to develop reflective-practice groups in Southwark, Rochester, and Llandaff. The groups enable priests to meet in small numbers, with a professional facilitator, with absolute confidentiality. Mrs Korris said that they were “a kindness to your clergy and a very good economic model, because if your clergy stay healthy, your dioceses will stay healthy”.
Another trustee, Sue O’Brien, a clergy spouse, described how times had changed since Trollope’s Dr Stanhope spent 12 years recovering from a sore throat by catching butterflies at Lake Como. Her suggestion that the reception audience would welcome the fact that “unbelievable idleness is no longer tolerated” drew some laughter. It was “wonderful that St Luke’s is able to provide the wherewithal to provide clergy with the tools and resilience to continue to give out so that we might all live our lives to the full”.
The Archdeacon of Sherborne, the Ven. Paul Taylor, said that the reflective-practice group running in the Salisbury diocese for 11 years had helped to reassure clergy “that the diocese is genuinely concerned about their well-being”.
“The Church, like many organisations, is an anxious organisation,” he said. “It is more worried about numbers of people coming, and money. That can become counter-productive. . . The more worried you get about the it, the more preoccupied. Anything that helps get things in perspective is good.”