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Book review: Creative Repair: Pastoral care and creativity by Anne C. Holmes

06 October 2023

Alison Webster looks at a prescription for stressed pastors

ANNE HOLMES is a priest, a Franciscan Tertiary, and a group analytic psychotherapist. These roles dovetail in her passionate advocacy of what she terms “creative repair”. This book represents one manifestation of her drive to make the concept better known and used — especially in pastoral ministry. It emerges from many years of reflection, including recent empirical research with clergy focus groups. The resultant case studies are drawn on throughout the book, bringing alive and helping to ground the sometimes complex psychoanalytic theories on which she draws.

Creative Repair is defined as “regular, active engagement with the creative arts as a way of repairing energy expended in sensitive pastoral care”. Because “the act of listening attentively to someone’s story, which often includes painful experiences, uses up emotional and psychological energy.” Quoting Anthony Gormley, she believes that “Art is intrinsic to who we are. . . it expresses a joy in being, a connection with all living beings, an awareness of the is-ness, but the absolute and utter need to join it, to make it and in that making, to register our extraordinary ability to reflect on existence.”

For Holmes, making, doing, and creating, alone and in groups, might be understood theologically as participation in the “isness” of God, and therefore an important way of “living into” what it means to be truly human. Yet normative patterns of ministry squeeze out creative and active engagement with the arts — deeming them to be optional luxuries that require justification. Hence the frequency of burnout. She examines other dynamics that can lead to unhealthy models of ministry: idealisation of clergy; lack of opportunities to alternate between roles as “leaders” and “members”; inadequate boundaries; lack of regular supervision.

Holmes argues for a concept of resilience with three characteristics: “the capacity to face reality”; “being able to make meaning during difficult or even terrible times”, and “the ability to make do with whatever is at hand”. But there are thorny structural issues that remain unnamed here.

Championing “resilience” can be a way for unhealthy institutions to shift responsibility for its institutionalised shortcomings on to individuals, who are expected to survive through self-care alone. As Holmes says, rules of life and creative repair are prophylactics. But I would argue that we also need something bigger: a political critique of the structures — practical and conceptual — that cause the problems in the first place. In the Anglican context, anxiety about decline preached from high places, unrealistic expectations of church growth, and the neoliberalism-imbued measurement of “success” all militate against clergy well-being.

Alongside Holmes’s “creative repair”, we also need to work towards a Church that is comfortable with its own mortality, less convinced of its entitlement to establishment power, and more willing to countenance and support a diversity of sustainable futures.

Alison Webster is General Secretary of Modern Church.


Creative Repair: Pastoral care and creativity
Anne C. Holmes
SCM Press £25
Church Times Bookshop £20

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