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Hundreds of clergy sign up for long-term Ministry study

24 February 2017


Starting out: 40 new deacons are ordained in St Paul's Cathedral, in July, 2015

Starting out: 40 new deacons are ordained in St Paul's Cathedral, in July, 2015

IN 1964, the Up television series be­­gan following the lives of 14 British children, updating viewers every seven years on their fortunes.

Last month, the Ministry Division began recruiting participants for its own longitudinal study. More than 1000 priests have been con­tacted, with a view to discovering “what enables ministers to flourish in ministry”.

Over the course of the next ten years, the Living Ministry study will look at the experiences of four co­­horts: people ordained deacon in 2006, 2011, or 2015, and those who started training in 2016. Across all four cohorts, up to about 1600 people are eligible; already hundreds have taken up the offer. Every two years, participants will be asked to complete an online survey, while qualitative research will include group discussions and interviews. The study will build on the learning from the Experiences of Ministry study, due to wind up this year.

”It’s for the Church to understand better how it can support the flour­ishing of the ordained person and their ministry,” the research officer leading the project, Dr Liz Grave­ling, said this week. “It’s about valuing clergy by listening to them and those around them as well, and taking seriously the complexities of ministry, so that people who are making decisions and policy really understand the nuances.”

Questions will explore how flour­ishing relates to ministerial educa­tion and continuing ministerial de­­velopment. They will look at each subject’s flourishing as a person and in ministry and the relationship be­­tween the two. This will take into account factors including physical, mental, and spiritual health; rela­tionships; material resources; and vocation (”Am I where God has called me to be?”).

The first report will be submitted to the Ministry Council in May.


Long-hours ministry. The last sur­vey, conducted in 2015, found that the average incumbent worked a 50­-hour week. The largest per­centage of this time was spent on administration and organisation (8.5 hours).

This month, the head of ministry development at the Archbishops’ Council, Dr Tim Ling, sought to de­­bunk the idea that long hours were related to growth.

”Spending a very large number of hours each week engaged in minis­try does not seem to represent the best stewardship of time, as total weekly hours have never been found to be an important predictor of spiritual or numerical growth,” he wrote, in a blog. “Making innova­­­tive changes to how one enacts one’s role and potentially seeking more feedback and support is more likely to bear fruit in terms of growth and personal fulfilment than simply do­ing even more of the same.”

The Dean of King’s College, Cambridge, the Revd Dr Stephen Cherry, said this week that he was unsurprised by the survey findings. As director of ministry in the dio­cese of Durham he found that time was a “big issue” for priests, who felt that there wasn’t enough of it. It prompted him to write a book — Beyond Busyness.

”My big concern is that clergy feel overwhelmed — there are huge pressures and expectations upon them — and they respond to this in the same way that many other people in today’s world respond: by trying to do more in less time,” he said.

”This makes them look and feel and sound busy. There are two prob­­­­lems. When you are busy, people find it very difficult to im­­agine you will have time for them. Secondly, being busy is often a way in which people who feel a little bit inadequate make them­selves feel more important. As someone has said, ‘busy’ is both a complaint and a boast.”

He described chronic busyness as “a kind of spiritual sickness” and a “capitulation to secularism”. It could not be resolved by time man­agement or other recommended strategies, he said. The an­­swer, “time wisdom” involved “a whole complex of practices and perspectives and developing self awareness that can help people inhabit time in way that is wise and calm and gracious.”

While agreeing that “unfair de­mands” were placed on clergy, he argued that it was incumbent on them to be “assertive” in response. “The Church has got a nasty habit at the moment of inadvertently modelling hyperactivity,” he said.

”Senior appointments are often announced in way that is too analogous to the way in which someone would announce senior appointments in a secular role. . . Too many people in representative ministry model a kind of frantic busyness. . . Clergy have to learn how to disappoint people and understand you are not going to please everyone.”


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