Pensions Committee -- CLERGY WELLNESS
It is 29 years since Alvin Toffler's "Future Shock" focussed our attention on the impact of rapid technological and social change. Future Shock was his term for the psychological illness that occurs when changes take place at a pace that exceeds our capacity to adapt and we succumb to the resulting stress. Since Toffler's book we have certainly witnessed a dramatic pace of social and technological change, impacting on our institutions, roles and attitudes? and the pace of change seems to be accelerating.
The corporate world has struggled to deal with the stress and burnout that has accompanied rapid changes in technology, and the dislocation of a decade of downsizing. Personnel resources have been added to provide counseling and training to assist employees in dealing with the stress. Clergy in many parishes have found themselves to be part of the support system for these stress ridden individuals and are fully aware of the devastating impact that stress can have on an individual and his or her family.
Much of the literature and corporate response has focused on how to help the casualties, "cope" with stress, rather than on eliminating the cause of the stress. Indeed, some stress and frustration is an essential motivation to learning and growth so there is a natural reluctance for us to admit that we have any difficulty in coping with stress? even pride in some cases with how much stress we can cope with!
Since Toffler wrote his book, the church, too, has encountered many internal changes as well as facing the dramatic change that has taken place in the external environment. Individual clergy persons generally seem to recognize that there is a good deal of stress inherent in their vocation? many might say more than in other vocations because ordination is a commitment of one's whole life to the church and not just one's work hours. It is my impression that the laity
may not fully share this view. In the extreme, I have heard it suggested that "the clergy have it pretty good because they only have to really work on Sundays? and even then only for half a day". To the extent that the significant pressures inherent in the clergy role are recognized there is often an accompanying view (even among some clergy) that the clergy are "too blessed to be stressed". While the Anglican Church has not been at the forefront in dealing with the question of stress in the work place, some steps have been taken.
Larger Dioceses employ a Personnel person to ensure that there is someone available to respond to the needs of Clergy and Lay employees. Calgary Diocese has established the position of Pastor to the Clergy. The Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland established a Clergy Wellness Protocol Committee in 1997 that recommended a series of seminars for clergy and spouses and a training session to be used with parish groups? all focussed on alleviating unnecessary stress. Huron Diocese held a Clergy Conference last year on the topic of Clergy Wellness and has some looking into what is being done elsewhere. So there is evidence that in some areas the need for action is being recognized. A search on the Internet for work on "Clergy stress" identified 5,233 items. While many of these related to churches in the United States and Europe there were Canadian items as well? and some related specifically to the Anglican Church.
Clearly recognition of the problem is an important first step to dealing with it. Many of the articles note the difficulties that professionals have in acknowledging that they are feeling excessively stressed. "We may fear that having stress related symptoms or just reaching out for support would seem like an impression of inadequacy. So we hide or deny our emotions and physical disease, and plod on, until we eventually burn out."
Is There A Problem?
A report on the membership of the Anglican Church of Canada's pension plan, that of the 2061 non retired ordained members in the plan, 485 of are "inactive". Further study revealed that a number of the latter group were classified as inactive as they have transferred to churches in other countries, or are serving as chaplains, or are teaching in church educational facilities. After excluding these there are still 18% of the ordained clergy classified as inactive, which seems like a very large number given the nature of the commitment in ordination. This data might at least suggest that there is a problem. The number of Anglican clergy on disability leave for psychological reasons provides further evidence that stress related problems are as prevalent among this group as in industry. In a survey of clergy in the United States, 38% of clergy identified burnout as the greatest danger to them and their families, 80% named isolation as the number one problem that they face and 80% feel that their occupation negatively effects their families. Anecdotal information on the situation in the Anglican Church in Canada suggests that this is an issue that should be looked at.
The Ottawa Diocese has had a variety of support groups in place for its theology students/interns and for newly ordained. However, it is not easy to "institutionalize" support as it is difficult to establish the open trust that is essential to support an individual when the support group is imposed on the clergy. Moreover, while the support of newly ordained clergy is very important, the pressures of stress typically emerge at a much later stage and long after the support group has been disbanded. Indeed, the Diocese places the onus for clergy wellness on the clergy themselves and to this end a includes a self help guide in the Clergy Personnel Policy which was prepared some years ago and provided to all clergy in the Diocese.
The Diocese has also made it possible for clergy to avail themselves of courses and programmes that deal with stress issues. For the clergy who take advantage of such facilities this is very helpful but there is a risk that the people most in need feel that their calendar is already overbooked and find it difficult to take the time for any additional activities.
There seems to be a good deal of evidence that the steps taken so far have not been sufficient to adequately cope with clergy stress and certainly not to deal with underlying causes of the stress. Individual Clergy members have concurred in this conclusion? but it is less clear that the Clergy "corporately" agree that there is a problem? Until that happens it is unlikely that any support initiatives will be fully effective.
If there is a problem, Is It Clearly Defined?
If it is agreed that a problem exists then it is important to try to specify quite precisely what that problem is. Once well defined, a problem is normally relatively easy to resolve. The first step may be to determine what aspects of personal stress are unique to the clergy role. Some of the specific difficulties that have been suggested include the following:
- Isolation from his or her community. The priest's responsibilities regarding the Parish has traditionally made it difficult to "de role" in order to seek support from within the community in times when the Priest is stressed. It is often difficult to seek help from fellow Clergy, because we don't want to admit to colleagues that we are stressed.
- The "empowerment of the laity" has changed the role of the clergy and this has proven to be stressful at times. Some have suggested that managing Lay volunteers takes more time than doing the task themselves. Others are concerned that sharing the pastoral role is an abdication of their responsibilities and some feel threatened by the loss of control that is involved in delegating the authority that must accompany the delegation of an area of responsibility.
- The Priest is trained and ordained to love and serve the people among whom he or she works, to preach, to declare God's forgiveness, to pronounce God's blessing, to preside at the administration of the Sacraments? but the installed Priest finds the "job" is one of management, administration meetings, training volunteers and being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
More generally, stress arises when expectations greatly exceed the resources available to meet them. The stress can be reduced or eliminated by lowering the expectations or by increasing the resources or some combination of both.
Expectations for the role of the clergy may be set by the Bishop, by the congregation, and by the clergy themselves. How the clergy perceive these expectations may be different than the actual expectations, but it will be the perceived expectations that the clergy are trying to meet.
How can we reduce the identified causes of stress for Clergy?
To begin with, we should assure that the actual and perceived expectations are the same. Thus we should assure that there is some process that involves the Priest, the Bishop and the congregation in establishing a clearly defined and agreed role for the Priest.
Having reached an agreed understanding of the expectations of the clergy role, we must assure that the resources available to the clergy are consistent with the goals. These resources include not only the authority, finances, time, talent, managerial skills, and training, but also the support systems, time and resources for personal care and re creation.
There should then be a system of accountability in place to review the expectations and resources periodically to be sure that they have not gotten out of balance. Individual members of the congregation often have a relatively limited understanding of what the clergy do and of their specific role and responsibilities. As a consequence the congregation's expectations may not be well balanced with the resources and support they are providing their clergy. Each member sees some aspects of the clergy role but a forum is needed to share these parts so that an agreed total role can be fully understood, appreciated and supported.
The approach taken in Eastern Newfoundland
The Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland established a Clergy Wellness Commission in 1997 and reported their recommendations in June 1999. These recommendations may well provide the basis to develop a consistent approach for the Anglican Church to resolve the concerns outlined above.
"The Wellness Protocol Committee" was given a mandate to:
1. Bring a proposed budget to the next session of Synod to implement a Wellness Protocol and fund the professional resources needed to deal with this issue.
2. Provide each cleric with a directory of professional resources available to address, any spiritual, physical, financial and other related issues.
The Committee concluded that: 'Ministry must be a mutual exercise, and we need to understand the stress that Christian Leadership places ordained clergy under. " It was hoped that the Commission's recommendations would enable clergy and laity to work together for the benefit of the whole church. In summary their recommendations are set out as follows:
1. They stressed the importance of clergy and their families paying attention to their physical, spiritual and emotional well being. They adapted an Ottawa Diocesan "Clergy Self Care Guide" and they emphasized "that it is the responsibility of the Clergy and their loved ones to seek the help when it is needed"
2. They recommended "that all parishes retain a copy of the Community Resource Directory? a comprehensive listing of social service agencies, government organizations, social workers, counsellors, psychologists, etc. that is updated every five years or so. "
3. "The work of the Committee should be continued. A reconstituted Committee must take responsibility for the organization of the seminars which clergy had indicated a strong interest in. We could set up a Wellness Link to our Diocesan web site where new information about books, seminars, etc., could be exchanged This could include an online forum discussing wellness issues. We should encourage the faculty at Queen's College to train the students to become aware of these concerns"
4. "Education of the laity: We should make a strong effort to educate the laity about wellness issues We need to emphasize that lay people and clergy have a Christian responsibility to care for each other. Ministry must be a mutual exercise, and we need to understand the stress that Christian leadership places ordained clergy under. Lay people and clergy should discuss boundary issues together, and discuss their expectation for each other? (sensitivity to other members of clergy family and their needs)? We feel that a series of training sessions for Vestry members, perhaps done on a Deanery basis, may help lay people identify some of these stressful situations, and to develop some ways in which they can assist"
Al Lamb January 25, 2000
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