DESPITE demanding work that often starts before sunrise and does not finish until late in the evening, clergy report higher levels of well-being than people in other occupations, because they are “filled with purpose”, a seven-year study suggests.
Started in 2011, the Experiences of Ministry Project has explored the views of 6000 Church of England clergy through regular national surveys, in addition to more than 100 in-depth interviews, and a series of week-long daily diaries. It was led by Dr Mike Clinton, a reader in work psychology at King’s College, London, and supported by the Ministry Division.
A summary, Effective Ministerial Presence and What It Looks Like in Practice, was presented at King’s last week. Its conclusions bear out the findings of the Living Ministry study published last week (News, 15 September).
“The well-being of clergy in our research compared favourably with other occupational groups,” the report says. “Despite having highly demanding roles, most priests cope, and even flourish, because they are filled with purpose, and derive meaning and fulfilment from their work. Even though they make substantial and frequent sacrifices as part of their role, they mainly do so willingly and see them as worthwhile.”
On Tuesday, Dr Clinton said that, compared with responses from other occupation groups, clergy reported lower burn-out, and higher levels of “vigour, dedication, and absorption in their their work”. It was “impossible to say for sure” why this might be, but there was evidence of “a much higher sense of purpose and meaning”.
This pattern of positive well-being was not uniform, however. “Even if the majority are doing very nicely, there is a minority that is not doing so well, and because of the numbers involved, that is actually quite a lot of people. . . When you have a role that is highly demanding, if the processes that help clergy cope start to become eroded, then perhaps quite quickly they find their well-being could suffer.”
Those in the survey who suffered a high degree of psychological burnout were “those who sacrificed the most, felt less clear about their calling and were less able to psychologically detach from ministry in their time off”.
The results of the study will inform ongoing work in the House of Clergy on well-being (News, 9 July).
ARCHBISHOP OF YORK“From cockpit to pulpit”: the Revd Taff Morgan describes his path, from service as a navigator in the RAF to ordination and ministry in the priesthood, during a “Holiday to Holy Day” mission week, in Southern Ryedale deanery, North Yorkshire, in July
Diaries completed by clergy in the study suggested that days were “long and demanding”. They often began work before sunrise, and did not finish until late in the evening. Administration and organisation took up more time than any other category of work: respondents spent, on average, more than three hours a day on admin, which was “broadly disliked” and a task in which they often lacked confidence. A longer time spent doing admin was linked to lower reports of growth within congregations.
More than half of clergy partners agreed that they did not know where their partner’s ministry ended and family life began.
Respondents to the survey “consistently presented a relatively positive picture for church attendance”, which, the report notes, is “in contrast to the findings of the national Parish Return data”.
Respondents to the study were self-selecting, and Dr Tim Ling, now director of research at the Church Army, but formerly head of ministry development, said this week that the discrepancy could also relate to a difference in the questions asked, and to “changing patterns of attendance”. For example, some clergy interviewed reported similar numbers attending, but different groups over a four-week period. It was possible, he suggested, that parish returns under-reported growth, perhaps because it had an impact on the parish share.
The four factors that “consistently led to enhanced growth” were: maintaining a strong and clear sense of vocation; innovation in how one goes about one’s ministry; seeking or receiving feedback on how well one is doing; seeking/receiving support from colleagues.
The findings suggested that “spiritual and numerical growth are positively and reciprocally related”.
Dr Ling said that the study highlighted “the interrelationship between sacrifice, growth, and well-being”.
“I hope it owns the level of sacrifice that clergy exercise as something inherent in their ministry,” he said. “There is positive story that, most of the time, clergy say that those sacrifices are worth while.”