By Stephen Harrison:

Last year the Church of England committed to the landmark ‘Covenant for Clergy Care and Well-Being’ (p.5) as an Act of Synod, agreeing to “undertake to work together to coordinate and improve our approach to clergy care and wellbeing so that the whole Church may flourish in the service of the mission of God.”

A number of resources were recently released to help embed the Covenant across the Church of England, including a document:

  • Developed for clergy to help them consider their own wellbeing and self-care.
  • Developed for local congregations to help parishioners, parish councils and staff initiate and facilitate conversations around the care and wellbeing of clergy.
  • Developed for Bishops and the wider Church to encourage bishops and others with oversight responsibilities to reflect and model the importance of clergy care and wellbeing.

This post will summarise the ‘Document for Reflection and Action for the Clergy’, which was developed for clergy to help them consider and discuss their own wellbeing and self-care, and will address the following key areas:

  • Reflecting on Our Baptismal and Ministerial Calling
  • Reflecting on Looking after Yourself and Others
  • Reflecting on Being a Public Figure
  • Reflecting on You and Your Household.

Reflecting on Our Baptismal and Ministerial Calling

The ministry of a clergy person is “relational, collegial, professional and accountable to others” and in order to fulfill their baptismal and ministerial calling, clergy are encouraged to:

  • Attend to their own care and wellbeing and to set aside time for rest, recreation, retreat and study for their own and others’ flourishing and growth.
  • Hold regular conversations about baptismal and ministerial vocation with others.
  • Understand how their conduct of ministry is perceived and experienced within and beyond the church.

A number of questions are suggested in this section, including:

  • To what extent are you actively and enthusiastically engaged in ministry? Is there anything you should stop doing?
  • What resources are offered to you by your Diocese to promote care and wellbeing?
  • 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?

Reflecting on Looking after Yourself and Others

As clergy provide and receive guidance and pastoral care, they are encouraged to take care of their health and fitness in order to promote necessary resilience. This means that clergy are advised to:

  • Be good stewards of their own health and wellbeing in support of their call.
  • Engage with others in regular reflection to develop insight, wisdom and relational skills in support of their ministry of pastoral care.
  • Establish and observe appropriate personal and professional boundaries in pastoral care and safeguarding.
  • Grow in awareness of the limits of their pastoral ability, their vulnerability and the need for them to sign post those in their care to others, monitoring their own needs and health during periods when they are providing demanding levels of care to others.

Some of the helpful questions raised in this section, include:

  • To what extent are you enjoying good physical and mental health?
  • What boundaries of time, space, skill and competency, both physical and psychological, do you aspire to? How are you doing?
  • What are the warning signs of stress and burnout for you? What signs of resilience do you recognise in yourself? How can you build on your qualities?
  • Do you know where to go to find help, whether for diagnostic stress tests or other self-help tools, or support from within or beyond your Diocese?

Reflecting on Being a Public Figure

Due to the nature of their calling and associated activities, clergy are always in the public eye. Thus, it is suggested that clergy:

  • Understand the character, shape and boundaries of this public service in conversation with the local and wider church.
  • Be aware of the way in which their own life and history affect their conduct
  • Participate in the wider life of the church, in respecting the office of lay leaders, and in exercising care in all forms of communication, including social media.

In light of this, some of the suggested questions clergy may ponder include:

  • How does your personality type, particularly whether you see yourself as extroverted or introverted, affect your ability to carry out the public nature of your role?
  • Do you feel you are making the best use of the skills of the congregation and community to help you?
  • Where are you vulnerable as a public figure – are you able to manage this in a creative way?

Reflecting on You and Your Household

Given the nature of clergy ministry, spouses and other household members of clergy likewise need support and encouragement from the church. Thus, ordained minsters are encouraged to:

  • Ensure their own approach to ministerial work takes into consideration the needs of those with whom they share their lives.
  • Work with the local church to ensure that boundaries in relation to their household are respected, and, where necessary, enforced.

As such, clergy are encouraged to think about the following questions:

  • What are the pressure points, if any, for your intimate family relationships and your wider ministry? How are these addressed or mitigated?
  • Can you have an appropriate conversation with your local church about the boundaries between your wider ministry and your household’s needs? If not, is there someone who could help you?

For those interested in exploring and discussing clergy wellbeing and self-care, the Church of England’s ‘Document for Reflection and Action for the Clergy’ is practical, easy to read, concise and comprehensive. It is written and formatted in a way that is conducive to pragmatic discussions with other clergy, Episcopal leaders, parish council representatives and clergy spouses and family members.

If you would like to explore the important area of clergy wellbeing and self-care in more detail, you can download a Church of England General Synod commissioned paper, which was written following extensive consultation with clergy and lay people across the United Kingdom.

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