CLERGY are to receive new training to respond better to communities in the wake of traumatic events such as terrorist attacks, fires, flooding, and revelations of child abuse.
The training scheme was piloted in Exeter and Plymouth in November, and will be rolled out across the UK in the next three years, starting with Cumbria this month. The course is being run by Dr Christopher Southgate, of the University of Exeter.
Events such as the attack in Manchester and the fire in Grenfell Tower, he said, “make it clear that this training is very much needed. Horrific situations like this pose challenges for ministers which their current training doesn’t include.”
To inform the training, he interviewed 15 individuals who had experience of trauma in communities, including several clerics, one of whom responded in the aftermath of the July bombings in London in 2005, and another who supported a congregation after a female police officer was murdered in the area.
Concerns for the physical and mental well-being of clerics in the Church of England were raised in a debate at the General Synod in July, during which the Archbishop of Canterbury said that being a parish priest was the “most stressful” work he had ever done (News, 7 July).
A working group was set up in November in response to the motion on clergy well-being (News, 24 November). The new training will help clergy to address their own needs, as well as those of the community, Dr Southgate said.
He told Radio 4’s Sunday programme: “It can be a very draining process responding to such a sudden need, and we need to help trainee ministers not only to have their systems of human support, but also to find ways and places where they can be genuinely honest with God about the cost of what they are having to do. In some cases, it can lead to people leaving the ministry, or to long-term ill-health.”
The Assistant Curate of the Churches4All Mission Community in Devon, the Revd Marc Kerslake, said: “As a newly appointed curate, I am conscious of the unique position we have to help the communities we serve in times of tragedy: we are alongside them for the long haul after all other agencies have moved on.
“This input has provided me with an invaluable toolkit which will assist in serving them better, based on the real experiences of individuals and communities who have had to cope. I would highly recommend it to anyone in ministry.”