top of page
Search

Clergy mental health is at breaking point

A heart-rending "In View of Experience" blog from a serving incumbent.



A member of the clergy quoted in the Church Times said, "People say they're consulting by meeting, but . . . it seems to be the decision-making is all taken elsewhere, so it doesn't feel fantastically participative." 

This is the story of the impact of a managerial hierarchy on clergy mental health.

We have moved from the vision of bishops being pastors to the pastors, to them being master chess players. Clergy feel like pawns, being picked up and put down as part of a greater game, with no consideration of the impact on them or the families.

The average member of the clergy, in a full-time stipend post, works between 50 and 60 hours a week. They do not take all their holidays because there isn't any cover; they cope with constant “constructive criticism” from congregation members, who complain they haven't been welcomed into the church in the right way. Many find themselves subject to multiple CDMs, bullying PCCs, and abusive emails, and now the Prayers of Love and Faith have been introduced there is a more significant threat of being accused of a hate crime if they express an orthodox view on marriage and sexuality. It's disheartening to see the lack of support for these dedicated individuals.

 

Let's take, for instance, Reverend A, who runs a multi-parish benefice - they have three churches that are all different traditions.  This means three services on Sunday morning – in three locations.  Dashing around means there is little chance to make real contact with the congregation, which in turn leads to unhappiness, as the congregation feel they're not getting quality time with the minister.  

Reverend A chairs 12 PCC meetings and 3 APCMs each year, plus the Benefice Council, which adds another four or five meetings. There are three church yards to look after and three historic buildings. Then there is all the other administration and day-to-day pastoral work which goes along with running three parishes.

But it is not just the local churches that place demands on Reverend A's diary.  

There are Bishop's study days, training courses, diocesan and deanery synods and with the lack of financial stability in the diocese - there is the time and uncertainty caused by the multiple meetings taking place over restructuring.

As an aside, last year I spent 73 working hours directly discussing reorganisations, not including consultation with the PCC and wider church family. In total, I calculate I spent 150 hours discussing the reorganisation of the diocese in the last 12 months, equating to 21 1/2 working days!

But back to Reverend A - although all three churches are active, they cannot pay the £64,000, which the diocese calculates as the cost of a full-time member of the clergy. They pull together approximately £40,000, but still there is uncertainty of re-appointment, if the Reverend A should leave.

Is there any wonder that the average clergyperson is on their knees?

 

And where is the pastoral care? I cannot remember the last time my Bishop came and sat in my study and took time to discover how I was coping. The last time my Bishop came to see me was after my wife wrote to them saying that I was on my knees at breaking point. And nobody has touched base with me since that meeting to see how I'm coping.

I spoke recently to another clergyperson, who has had the CDM system weaponised against them.  They have received no support and had to defend themselves against these repeated attacks.

The problem is that our bishops see themselves as managers - organising structures and attempting to fend off insolvency by sweating their assets.  And so the most significant asset, the clergy, are just asked to do more; to take on more responsibility and stretch themselves more to keep the parish system going. Add to this the fact that decisions regarding deployment, re-appointment, and licensing of workers seem to occur behind a veil of secrecy, and you have the perfect cocktail for a collapse in mental and physical health and well-being.

I have struggled with depression, stress-related illness, despair, and disillusionment and at present I am seeing a counsellor. And I am not alone. The Church of England’s own research reveals that in March 2023,

Over one in five incumbents (21%) had WEMWBS scores that indicate probable clinical depression, and a further 15% indicating possible or mild depression.... For context, Office for National Statistics figures for Autumn 2022 suggest that around 1 in 6 (16%) adults aged 16 or over in Great Britain had moderate to severe depressive symptoms.

WEMWBS - Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale

Do I believe my Bishop cares? Well, actually, I do, but I don't think he has time to care properly, and I don't believe the diocese has anywhere near the appropriate structures in place to avoid clergy imploding. Dangerous trends are developing as a rift opens up between Diocesan structures and the clergy on the front line. I suspect the bishops believe the clergy are in good spirits, and I guess the archdeacons know less than they would like to admit about the mental health and well-being of the clergy.

As one clergyman put it;

"I never felt able to share anything with a bishop which touched on areas of personal vulnerability. In other words, I never wanted to open up to a bishop in a way that might have allowed a pastoral relationship to evolve. The reason for this was not fear or excessive deference. It was simply that I perceived that a bishop, whatever his pastoral gifts, is first and foremost the guardian of the power of patronage in the church. That power, whether a bishop likes it or not, will always create formality and a certain distance in many relationships with their clergy."

To sum it all up, I believe that most clergy are overworked, disconnected from their Bishop, stressed, uncertain about the future, which causes unnecessary concern, and have low morale. But can we admit this? We are the equivalent of front-line infantry troops engaged in the spiritual battle and there's only so long we can spend in the trenches feeling little care from the General who is 25 miles behind us before we break.

The church’s present attitude is nothing short of appalling, and I believe the neglect by bishops of the pastoral oversight of the clergy and the ever-increasing demands placed upon them is an act of negligence which will, in time, exacerbate and accelerate the terminal decline of the parish system.

In 2020, the General Synod of the Church of England passed an Act of Synod, which included these words:

"In its formularies, the Church of England recognises that God calls men and women to serve as deacons, priests and bishops to build up and equip the whole People of God.

Conscious that such a calling is both a privilege and a demand, we as the Church of England commit together to promote the welfare of our clergy and their households in terms expressed in the Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing.

We undertake to work together to seek to coordinate and improve our approach to clergy care and wellbeing that ordained ministers flourish in their service of the mission of God within and beyond the Church."

Words are cheap and producing glossy online brochures full of questions is easy – but four years on - we need answers.

We need a radical rethink of how we care for our most valuable asset, the very people who visit the sick, preach the gospel, do our schools work, and are a visible presence in our local communities of the love and grace of God. Without the parish priest the Church of England is nothing and can achieve nothing.

With thanks to Gadiel Lazcano from Unsplash for the image and to Living Ministry - Wave 4 for the graph.

 

To find out more about the work of Anglican Futures - please visit our website


974 views3 comments

Recent Posts

See All

3 Comments


Guest
Apr 22

This is just not an accurate picture. In my experience the majority of clergy are lazy, very hard to get hold of and never do visiting.

Like
Guest
May 03
Replying to

Clearly one would like to know how many clergy comprise Guest 1's sample set to know how much general inference can be drawn from it. Meanwhile Guest 2 (clergyman?) need not think that Guest 1 is personally getting at them.

Like
bottom of page