“As I’ve listened to clergy over recent weeks and months and reflecting on my own wellbeing during this very particular time we are living through, I am aware of the unique set of pressures, anxieties and challenges we are all facing. In order to continue to serve as priests now and into the future, we each need to take our own wellbeing seriously, considering what changes we may need to make in our lives in order to thrive personally and in our vocation as priests. I and my senior colleagues are committed to doing all we can to support your wellbeing and as part of this commitment the Wellbeing Project Team (WPT) has continued to meet and work on developing our resources and systems across the Diocese.
“The Team has recently been focusing on the National Church research project ‘How Clergy Thrive’. What follows is both a summary and an adaptation of the report and its outworking in terms of sets of questions for clergy to consider which relate to key aspects of our wellbeing.
“At the end of the paper is a list of resources within and beyond the Diocese to help support your wellbeing.
“I am especially grateful to Julia Cody and my colleagues on the WPT for their work on this paper and I commend it warmly to you for your use.”
How Clergy THRIVES
The National Church has produced this report of insights from Living Ministry. It draws together the reflections, through surveys, interviews and focus groups, of nearly 800 ordinands and clergy on five areas of their lives:
- spiritual and vocational wellbeing
- physical and mental wellbeing
- financial and material wellbeing
- participation in the life of the Church
It is a very readable report which can be accessed here:
The report concludes:
“From the stories of our participants, seen through the lens of these five aspects of wellbeing, have emerged six key things which make a difference to clergy wellbeing. This is not a magic formula; rather, six principles that have consistently contributed to wellbeing across varying people, roles and circumstances.”
To these six principles, the WPT have added a seventh. Under each of these 7 principles, there is a brief summary and then some questions. You may find some or all of these questions helpful as you consider your own wellbeing. You may wish to consider some or all of these questions on your own; in conversation with those who support you; with your PCC/DCC/Ministry Team; with your Chapter; or others. Some questions may feel more relevant to you than others, they are simply intended as a prompt to your own thinking, reflection and conversation.
Tune your life into healthy rhythms
The unbounded nature of much ordained ministry, along with the immense variety of clergy lives and contexts, means that structured routines can be elusive. To maintain wellbeing and flourish in ministry, clergy often develop their own life-giving rhythms of work, rest, prayer, exercise and nutrition. These may involve a combination of adapting existing routines such as travel and dog-walking, and designating specific time to particular activities. There may be daily, weekly, monthly or yearly patterns - or any other frequency - and will be more or less fluid and flexible depending on activity and context.
- How can you build healthier prayer rhythms?
- Where do you find spiritual nourishment? Can you draw on reading, sermon podcasts, conferences, creative arts, or worship or other spiritual activities outside your primary ministry context?
- How could you deepen and develop healthier rhythms of work, rest, prayer and exercise?
- How well do you take care of your physical needs e.g. for sleep, food, and play?
- How can you ensure you have time and space away from work?
- To what extent are you able to give yourself permission to rest?
- To what extent are you able to maximise the flexibility of your work?
- How can you ensure you take an annual retreat?
One of the most common causes of stress in all aspects of wellbeing is unclear expectations. This may be about specific mis-matched expectations such as in the context of a new relationship between training incumbent and curate, a clergy family navigating the expectations of congregations, or tensions between a vicar and her PCC over expense claims, or it may relate to differences between anticipated and actual experiences of ordained ministry or particular roles, whether financial, vocational, relational, physical, mental or spiritual. Clear communication is important, both the capacity to express one’s own limits and perspectives and the capacity to hear others.
- Are there people it would be good to talk to about expectations and roles?
- How does your ministry affect your family, and how does your family affect your ministry?
- From whom do you experience demands? To what extent can you have honest conversations with these people about expectations? If not, is there someone who could help facilitate such conversations?
- Can you ration or delegate meetings?
- If you are feeling under pressure regarding attendance statistics and finance, you are not alone. Who can you talk to about this?
Recognise times of vulnerability
Along the journey of ordained ministry there are certain times when clergy will be more vulnerable to dips in wellbeing. It is important to recognise such moments, both to put in place preventative strategies and support structures and to maintain perspective. Moments of transition are especially challenging, in particular the move from curacy to first incumbency. First incumbents describe feeling isolated and overwhelmed by level and scope of responsibility, mitigated for some by mentors, proactive and approachable archdeacons, and training for new incumbents. Wellbeing is also threatened at moments of personal or ministerial crisis, whether a health issue, family bereavement, financial or congregational difficulty or a global pandemic, and both personal resilience and diocesan support are important at such times. The latter varies, partly according to whether help is sought (and whether the minister feels they can seek help), and may include financial assistance, counselling provision, professional cover, advice, guidance and pastoral care.
- Who would you talk to if you were experiencing ill-health physically or mentally?
- What support structures, if any, have you got in place? If you haven’t, who can you talk to about developing these?
- Do you know what provision there is in the Diocese to support your physical and mental health?
- Do you have a mentor, coach, spiritual director/companion?
- Are you aware of the assistance with physical or mental wellbeing available through charitable trusts such as St Luke’s, Sheldon or the Clergy Support Trust?
- Can you invest in resourcing yourself through reading and personal development courses?
Identify safe spaces to be heard
Partly because of the challenges of relational boundaries in pastoral ministry, ordained ministers often have to look beyond their immediate context in the search for authenticity. Safe, honest and supportive relationships are often (not always) found in other clergy, whether individuals, longstanding peer groups, diocesan- initiated reflective practice groups or networks of people in similar circumstances. They may meet on a regular basis for deep sharing and prayer, or communicate via social media for instant support, and often combine both. Groups built into ecclesial structures, such as deanery chapter, may or may not provide such support, and clergy also draw on spiritual direction, mentors and counsellors as well as family and friends.
- Who can you talk to on an ongoing basis about your spiritual development?
- Have you got a spiritual director/companion?
- Do you have spaces to talk and pray openly with other people?
- How can you proactively build peer and diocesan relationships?
- How can you ring-fence time with people who care about you?
- If you are struggling to maintain friendships, are you able to identify a small number to invest in intentionally?
Value and affirm
Of utmost importance is the need to be recognised and valued at a human level as well as by God. In the context of a declining church and pressure to increase attendance and ensure financial viability, alongside huge financial investment in specific initiatives, clergy can feel unappreciated, devalued and demoralised. The implications of this cut across all aspects of wellbeing, from the perceived need to reduce personal expenditure to support a struggling church, to physical and mental stress, isolation, guilt, vocational doubt and a strong sense of marginalisation. Awareness of the implications of dominant messages from the church for clergy wellbeing is important, and where clergy receive personal interest in and support of themselves and their ministry, especially by senior clergy, they feel less guilty and isolated, and more known, understood and valued.
- To what extent do you feel seen and known in the Diocese?
- Are there ways in which you can deepen and strengthen your connection with the wider Diocese?
- To what extent do you value and affirm those around you?
- Are there ways in which you can be proactive in building relationships with peers, senior clergy and diocesan officers?
- What might help you to foster and deepen a sense of belonging within the Diocese?
Establish healthy boundaries
Ordained ministry has few formal borders. Clergy, especially those in parish ministry, struggle with work that impinges on family time, intrudes into private space, invades rest and sleep, complicates relationships, inhibits expense claims and expands into all the minutiae of church life. To address this, as well as nurturing healthy rhythms of living, many clergy also seek to develop life-giving boundaries in time, space, mind, role, relationships and finances. Diocesan support in this is vital in providing guidance, examples, validation and permission, to nurture an environment in which clergy are able to be kind to themselves as well as to others.
- Which of the following might be helpful?
- Ring-fencing days off, annual leave, time with family and friends, and other ‘down time.’
- Switching off your phone during rest times.
- Using different phone numbers for work and personal life.
- Getting away from the parish during rest times.
- Moving meetings and the parish office out of your home.
- Recording hours worked to relieve feelings of guilt.
- Writing down work-related thoughts and concerns to ‘park’ them during rest times.
- Can you give yourself permission to spend time with friends and family, not thinking about work?
- How much time do you spend with people unrelated to your work?
- Where do you place your relational boundaries with those amongst whom you minister? To what extent do they understand the demands of your role and your personal limits?
- Where are your safe spaces? Who can you talk to openly and honestly?
- In what ways might you be able to use private social media groups for support?
- Are there networks of people in similar situations that you could join?
- If you have a curate or a training incumbent, are you able to have honest conversations about expectations about role, workload, ministry style, working conditions etc.?
- How easy is it to make ends meet each month?
- Are you able to save regularly?
- Do you budget? Could this help?
- Do you know what provision you have for retirement? Can you do anything more to plan for this?
- Do you know who to talk to about housing issues, financial matters and retirement plans?
- Do you always claim expenses? If you are in parish ministry, how easy do you find it to draw boundaries between your own finances and those of your church?
Strengthen sense of vocation
Beyond the wellbeing which is essential to each of us flourishing as human beings, in order for clergy to thrive there is the additional crucially important need to maintain and strengthen the sense of vocation or calling to priesthood/ministry. This can serve as an anchor during difficult times. Where there are vocational doubts or questions which are not being attended to, these can seriously undermine wellbeing. Clergy can experience a lack of fulfilment: when they feel their gifts, skills, and passions, including those acquired before ordination, are not used or recognised; when there is a sense they are not serving in the correct post; or when engaged in work they feel is outside their calling. Vocational support is often centred around the MDR process which can enhance a fundamental sense of being known, understood and valued.
- Who is or can be a conversation partner in your ongoing vocational discernment?
- How can you make the most of your Ministerial Development Review?
- How does the balance of your ministry look? Have you got gifts/skills/ callings that are not being fulfilled? Are you feeling burdened by tasks you are not equipped to do? Does anyone in your diocese know?
- Can you encourage yourself by reminding yourself of your original call?
- How is your sense of calling continuing to grow and develop?
- To what extent do you make creative and beneficial use of the Diocesan and National CMD provision?
- Do you make regular use of your CMD grant?
- If you have been ordained for ten or more years, have you considered the ‘Celebrating Wisdom in Ministry’ conferences offered by the Diocese?
A Reminder of Diocesan Avenues to Support Your Wellbeing
Primarily we each take responsibility for creating and maintaining the relationships and patterns which help us personally. Alongside this, the Diocese is committed to supporting every member of clergy’s wellbeing, offering a raft of ways in which to seek to help you thrive. Below is a summary to remind you of many of the avenues offered.
1. Listening Ear
Listening Ear is the counselling support network in the Diocese of Lichfield available to all Clergy and their families. Counselling can provide an opportunity to explore concerns in a safe and confidential setting with the support of a trained and experienced Counsellor or Psychotherapist. The service is free for up to six sessions (though donations may be made towards the cost); a further six sessions can be arranged within the subsidised scheme, with the client contribution being negotiated with the counsellor concerned. Cost should not be an impediment to seeking this help. Click here for more details.
Spiritual Direction happens when one Christian offers another the space to focus on their relationship with God and its effect on their life. It sets aside time to pay attention to this core of the Christian life. We are all pilgrims journeying in hope towards God and we each need a sense of direction for our steps. A companion along the way can help. https://www.lichfield.anglican.org/mission/spiritualityresources/what-is-spiritual-direction.php
Within the menu of ongoing training provided by the diocese are courses designed to support wellbeing. To see what’s available check: https://www.lichfield.anglican.org/vocations-and-training/clergytrainingcourses/cmd/
4. Rural Deans and Chapter Colleagues
Good local support is available from other clergy serving in the area, and the Rural Dean.
5. Senior Staff
Archdeacons and area bishops are an important source of support to clergy and are always happy to be contacted for pastoral or vocational conversations. Periodic Archdeacon/Bishop Conversations (ABC’s) offer an in depth opportunity for a holistic conversation about life and ministry.
6. Clergy Handbook
for really important and useful information regarding matters including: days off / holiday allowance / leave / retreats / stipends / fees / grants / expenses / common tenure / housing / maternity provision / code of conduct / retirement / sickness …
In addition, here are some national resources:
- The Association of Pastoral Supervision and Education (APSE) ~ www.pastoralsupervision.org.uk
- St Luke’s Healthcare for the Clergy ~ www.stlukesforclergy.org.uk
- Sheldon Hub ~ www.sheldonhub.org
- Clergy Support Trust ~ www.clergysupport.org.uk
- Clergy Covenant for Wellbeing ~ www.churchofengland.org/resources/clergy-resources/national-clergy-hr/supporting-clergy-health-and-wellbeing/covenant
- MIND ~ www.mind.org.uk