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‘Healthy ministry’ and burnout prevention are themes of follow-up to Clergy Covenant

29 July 2020

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THE clergy are being asked to reflect on and prioritise their own well-being as part of the Church of England’s drive to reduce burnout and stress among them.

‘Let us play’

In February, the General Synod formally affirmed the Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing as an Act of Synod (News, 21 February). Canon Simon Butler, who chaired the working group, said at the time that an Act was “the perfect vehicle” to embed clergy well-being, which was essential to safeguarding, into church life.

The principles of the Covenant were published in three documents on Monday. One is directed at clergy, the other two towards bishops and congregations who are asked to consider more carefully the impact of their actions on the well-being of the clergy and their families.

Canon Butler said: “We hope by publishing these documents for reflection and action on the Covenant that we can help encourage debate across the Church on our shared responsibility for the well-being of ministers and their households.

“The care and well-being of the clergy is crucial to the health of the Church at worship, in mission, and in pastoral care. Recent experience of the Covid-19 pandemic has served to underline the need for those who care to be properly supported and given the opportunity to attend to their own well-being while in the midst of both crisis and everyday ministry.”

The first booklet advises clerics to “understand the character, shape, and boundaries” of being in the public eye; to “be aware of the way in which their own life and history affect their conduct”; and to “exercise care in all forms of communication, including social media”.

It suggests that they set time aside for “rest, recreation, retreat, and study”; have conversations with others about vocations; and “understand how their conduct of ministry is perceived and experienced within and beyond the church”.

The document also includes questions to “ponder”, such as, “To what extent are you actively and enthusiastically engaged in ministry? Is there anything you should stop doing?” and “How many conversations about vocation have you had with others in the past year?”

It also asks: “What resources are offered to you by your diocese to promote care and well-being? And “Are you ‘hard to reach’ in terms of offering care and promoting wellbeing? Or are senior clergy and wellbeing services ‘hard to access’ in your diocese?”

Earlier this month, Dr Sarah Horsman, the Warden of Sheldon, an independent retreat centre and support hub for those in ministry, published a report on the impact of the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) on the well-being of clergy (News, 17 July).

Half of the 5628 clerics who responded to the survey, including 291 respondents facing 351 CDMs, strongly disagreed with the statement “I felt supported by the diocese through the process.” More than one third of clergy subject to a CDM had had thoughts about ending their life.

In the second booklet published this week, the bishops are asked to be “role models of healthy ministry”. They are reminded of their responsibility to care for ordained ministers through “properly resourced education and training, supported through good policies and procedures”, and by assessing the impact of new missionary models on clergy care and well-being.

The bishops are also asked, among other questions, “How do you ensure that informal encouragement of and concern for ordained ministers is offered alongside more formal opportunities?” and “How well do you facilitate support for, and mutual sharing of experience between, ministers with disabilities, as and when they judge appropriate?”

Congregations, too, are asked to support clerics in their church by reviewing their expectations and allowing them opportunities for rest, and to try to imagine life “in their shoes”. Questions for congregations include “How do your clergy know you care and are concerned for them?” and “How confident are you about talking with your clergy about matters relating to their personal wellbeing?”

These reflections will be brought back to the Synod in 2022.

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