Mental health of clergy is on the verge of collapse

“Church Times” quoted a clergyman as saying, “People say they negotiate through meetings, but…”. . It seems like all the decisions are made elsewhere, so it doesn’t feel very involved.

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

We have moved from a vision of bishops becoming priests to a vision of priests becoming chess masters. Clergy feel like pawns, being picked up and put down as part of a larger game without regard to the impact on them or their families.

Clergy in full-time stipend jobs work an average of 50 to 60 hours per week. They won’t take all their vacation time because there are no guarantees. They deal with constant “constructive criticism” from members of the congregation who complain that they are not being welcomed into the church in the right way. Many people have found themselves subject to multiple CDMs, bullying PCCs and abusive emails, now with the introduction of “Prayers of Love and Faith”, and face more serious charges if they express orthodox views on marriage and sex The threat of hate crimes. It is so frustrating to see the lack of support for these dedicated individuals.

Let’s take the example of Pastor A, who runs a multi-parish charity – they have three churches from different traditions. That means three services at three locations on Sunday morning. Traveling around means there is little opportunity for real contact with the congregation, which in turn can lead to unhappiness because the congregation feels they are not spending quality time with the pastor.

Pastor A chairs 12 PCC meetings and 3 APCM meetings each year, in addition to chairing the Benefice Council, which has an additional four to five meetings. There are three church courtyards and three historic buildings to care for. Then there are all the other administrative and day-to-day pastoral tasks associated with running three parishes.

But it wasn’t just the local church that made demands for Pastor A’s diary.

There were episcopal study days, training courses, diocesan and archbishop’s conferences, and multiple meetings on restructuring issues created time and uncertainty as the diocese lacked financial stability.

Incidentally, I spent 73 working hours last year directly discussing the restructuring, which did not include consultation with the PCC and the wider church family. By my calculations, I have spent a total of 150 hours discussing parish reorganization over the past 12 months, which equates to 21 1/2 working days!

But back to Vicar A – although all three churches were active, they were unable to pay the £64,000, which the diocese calculated as the cost of a full-time clergyman. In total they have raised around £40,000 but there remains uncertainty over re-appointment if Pastor A leaves.

Is it any wonder that ordinary priests kneel?

Where is the pastoral care? I can’t remember the last time my bishop came into my study and took the time to understand how I was coping. The last time my bishop came to see me was after my wife wrote to them that I was on my knees at breaking point. No one has reached out to me since that meeting to see how I coped.

I recently spoke with another cleric who has weaponized the CDM system against them. They received no support and had to defend themselves against these repeated attacks.

The problem is that our bishops see themselves as stewards—of organizational structures and try to avoid bankruptcy by running out of assets. As a result, the most important asset—the clergy—is asked to do more; to take on more responsibilities and to work harder to keep the diocesan system running. Add to this the fact that decisions regarding the deployment, reappointment and licensing of workers appear to be made behind a veil of secrecy, and you have the perfect cocktail for a breakdown in physical and mental health and well-being.

I have been struggling with depression, stress related illnesses, hopelessness and disillusionment and am currently seeing a counselor. I’m not alone. The Church of England’s own research shows that in March 2023,

More than one in five incumbents (21%) had WEMWBS scores indicating possible clinical depression, with a further 15% indicating possible or mild depression…. For context, Figures from the Office for National Statistics for autumn 2022 show that around one in six (16%) adults aged 16 or over in the UK suffer from moderate to severe symptoms of depression.

WEMWBS – Warwick Edinburgh Mental Health Scale

Do I believe my bishop cares? Well, actually, I would, but I don’t think he has the time to take care of it properly, and I don’t believe the diocese has any structures in place to avoid a clergy implosion. As rifts develop between diocesan structures and frontline clergy, dangerous trends are developing. I doubt the bishops believe the clergy are in good spirits, and I suspect the archdeacons know less about the mental health and well-being of the clergy than they would like to admit.

As one pastor said;

“I have never felt able to share anything with a bishop that involved an area of ​​personal vulnerability. In other words, I have never wanted to open up to a bishop in a way that might allow a pastoral relationship to develop. The reason for this is not fear or undue respect. It’s just that I think, A bishop, whatever his pastoral gifts, is first and foremost the guardian of the patronage of the Church, a power that always creates formality and a certain distance in many relationships with the clergy, whether the bishop likes it or not. .

All in all, I think most clergy are overworked, disconnected from their bishops, stressed, uncertain about the future, which causes unnecessary worry, and is demoralizing. But can we admit this? We were the equivalent of frontline infantry engaged in spiritual warfare, spending so little time in the trenches that we felt no concern from the generals 25 miles behind us until we broke through.

The current attitude of the church is simply appalling, and I believe that the bishops’ neglect of pastoral oversight of the clergy and the increasing demands placed on them is an act of neglect that will, over time, exacerbate and hasten the eventual decline. system.

In 2020, the General Assembly of the Church of England passed a General Act which included the following:

“In its provisions, the Church of England recognizes that God calls men and women to serve as deacons, priests and bishops for the edification and equipping of the whole people of God.

Recognizing that such a calling is both a privilege and a requirement, we, as the Church of England, share a commitment to promoting the welfare of our clergy and their families in accordance with the terms expressed in the Covenant on the Care and Welfare of the Clergy.

We commit to working together to find ways to harmonize and improve our care and well-being for the clergy so that ordained ministers can flourish as they serve God’s mission in the church and beyond.

Words are cheap and it’s easy to create a beautiful online brochure full of questions – but four years on – we need answers.

We need to fundamentally rethink how we care for our most precious assets, those who visit the sick, preach the gospel, run schools, and embody God’s love and grace in our local communities. The Church of England is nothing and can achieve nothing without its parish priests.

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