Wednesday, 8 November 2017

A Covenant for Clergy Well-being

Press release from Church of England Communications Office

First step towards Covenant for Clergy Well-being

07 November 2017

Plans for a new deal between clergy and the wider Church of England - modelled on the ideas behind the Military Covenant - have taken a step forward after a panel was established to begin drafting.

The Church of England’s Appointments Committee has set up a group, made up of members of General Synod, both lay and ordained, alongside others with expertise in areas such as health and education, to draw up a Covenant for Clergy Well-being.

It is being produced in response to a vote in the General Synod in July of this year after a debate which heard of the impact of stress, isolation and loneliness on clergy’s lives and ministries.

The debate heard how the Military Covenant recognises that the nation relies on the sacrificial service of those in the armed forces and in return has a duty to support and value them in practical ways.

Although the parallels with the Church are not exact, Synod heard how a similar pattern of mutual commitment could be recognised in the Church.

The working group will begin work later this month and aims to bring proposals for such a Covenant back to this Synod by July 2019…

A background paper provided to members of Synod ahead of the July 2017 debate can be found here.

Further details of the Military Covenant, and the Armed Forces Covenant which followed it, are available here.

Here is the Church Times report of the July debate: Causes of clergy stress aired in the General Synod.

And the Church Times recently carried several related feature articles:

I was pushed close to the edge

All in the mind, body, and soul

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 8 November 2017 at 3:56pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

Onward Christian soldiers!

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 9 November 2017 at 5:56am GMT

"modelled on the ideas behind the Military Covenant "

As a general rule, people who attempt to claim their job is akin to being shot at with live ammunition are, unless their job actually _does_ involve being shot at with live ammunition, in desperate need of a sense of proportion. Private Eye intermittently mocks actors who make wild claims of their job being like life on the front line (not helped by the smug use of the word "civilians" to describe non-actors), and this appears to come from a institutionalised version of the same self-aggrandising delusion.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Thursday, 9 November 2017 at 8:04am GMT

Do we know who will make up this group, and what are their qualities to be members of this specific group?

Fr John Emlyn

Posted by: Fr John E Harris-White on Thursday, 9 November 2017 at 12:07pm GMT

I was shot at with a crossbow and 24-inch rockets when I was vicar on a troubled estate. Fortunately the diocese (Chester) were really good at supporting me. I'm always grateful to them for that.

There's still the pressure of parishioners' unrealistic expectations, though, and I'm not sure a covenant will help with that.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Thursday, 9 November 2017 at 12:16pm GMT

Interested Observer
A word of warning about placing the word "civilians" in inverted commas as Jeremy will be after you with some specious non-existent connection with same sex marriage!

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 9 November 2017 at 12:39pm GMT

The names are all listed in the press release, Fr John Emlyn.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 9 November 2017 at 1:08pm GMT

Interested Observer, I take complete responsibility for the use of the Military Covenant in this work. The idea comes from my experience both as a former naval officer and now as a Parish priest. There’s no institutional agenda here: just me borrowing something useful from the secular world. I would welcome any critique of the idea (the report- which you willl no doubt have read before opining - recognised that there is an obvious difference between military service and ecclesiastical service. Although scripture occasionally invites comparison). Feel free to send me your thoughts- we are keen to hear from all quarters! Simon Butler, Convenor of Wellbeing Working Group.

Posted by: Simon Butler on Thursday, 9 November 2017 at 2:45pm GMT

Thank you Simon

Posted by: Fr John E Harris-White on Thursday, 9 November 2017 at 2:45pm GMT

"as Jeremy will be after you with some specious non-existent connection with same sex marriage"

Father David, if you are referring to the recent discussion of the inaccurate "worldwide Anglican Church" and "doctrine" in Caroline Spelman's parliamentary answers, then I will let other readers judge whether the connection is "specious" or "non-existent," as you claim. Those misstatements were made, of course, in response to a question under the heading "Same-sex marriage." That heading was not mine, but Hansard's.

Before you posted "Jeremy will be after you," I was actually thinking that the "well-being" news in this post would appear to herald a new Anglican covenant. One that might actually deserve both appellations--Anglican and covenant--depending on what it eventually looks like.

Such terminology is another nail in the coffin of the failed worldwide Anglican Covenant from a few years back.

It also frankly looks like an attempt to boost clergy morale ahead of some other shoe that has yet to drop. I don't know what that shoe might be, because it hasn't dropped yet. We shall see.

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 9 November 2017 at 5:14pm GMT

IO, I would note that while combat is our most frequently noted cause for post traumatic stress, it is hardly the only one. Here on the western side of the Atlantic, a good deal of gunfire happens without benefit of such preparation (in any sense) as military experience might offer. Moreover, as a hospital chaplain I can assure that many kinds of assault can result in debilitating post traumatic stress.

Is that to claim a false equivalence with combat experience? I hope not. After all, when we ask patients the level of their pain, we are asking them only to compare to their own sense of what wellness/comfort would be. Is the post traumatic stress the same between the combat soldier and the rape victim? Not having experienced either, I'm in no position to say. Having cared for both, though, I am prepared to say both are real and both are debilitating. So, both can benefit from appropriate response.

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Thursday, 9 November 2017 at 5:22pm GMT

Soldiers do their jobs, nurses do their jobs, teachers do their jobs, firefighters do their jobs, manual labourers do their jobs, police do their jobs. There should be no hierarchy. Same with clergy and lay people in the church. Everyone faces pressures. Life is rarely easy, whatever your walk of life.

I am very guarded about what I sometimes feel is the "fetishisation" of the military in our society. Especially if it's suggested that soldiers should get priority housing etc.

Having said that, like all the other workers I have listed, soldiers deserve support and care. So do priests (so I hope this initiative prospers). But so do nurses, so do labourers, or cleaners on low wages.

The comparison with a "military covenant" somewhat unsettles me, because I think there should be a covenant for everyone.

I come from a family with a strong military tradition (Gordon Highlanders as they used to be called) and our family knows some of the cost that serving in the armed forces brings. So I mean no disrespect at this remembrance time.

I think the emphasis needs to be on care and concern. Covenant should be about community, and not about singling out special groups. Some of the real and most impressive heroes and heroines I know are cleaners and others working on minimum wage, working overtime to clothe and feed their families, and to keep them warm.

The initiative itself seems a good one. I just think it should be rooted in community, and a multi-directional care and concern for all, not only a singled out group. I really don't think a vicar's lot (in many cases) is as hard and remorseless as many other people's. Even if, done as devotion, it must be as deeply sacrificial as the mother bringing up four children in a rented flat, earning minimum wage, and working a 50 or 60 hour week, just to try to pay exorbitant bills.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Thursday, 9 November 2017 at 6:52pm GMT

I'm an old fart, and reasonably approachable, so from time to time clergy colleagues talk to me. I don't know about the UK, but I can tell you from what I've heard that there is a real need for this kind of support for clergy (and their families too). For all sorts of reasons, many clergy are struggling.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Thursday, 9 November 2017 at 11:40pm GMT

I would have hoped that the Church of England would recognise that for many Christians, and indeed many priests, a comparison with the military has more negative than positive connotations.

Posted by: Jo on Friday, 10 November 2017 at 6:23am GMT

How interesting that any reference to LGBT+ and same-sex partnered clergy has been confined to a footnote (note 7 on page 6). That is a pointer to one of the significant causes of deteriorating clergy well-being in itself, despite the 'official' stance in this footnote. Talk about elephants in rooms.

Posted by: Will Richards on Friday, 10 November 2017 at 12:08pm GMT

Jo, don't tell all the military chaplains that. For many Christians, and indeed many priests, the military is an honourable occupation, a regrettable necessity in a fallen world.

Posted by: NJ on Friday, 10 November 2017 at 2:20pm GMT

NJ: I'm sure military chaplains are already well aware of the tension in the Christian tradition between "Just War" ideas and outright pacifism that make applying a military analogy across the whole church problematic.

Posted by: Jo on Friday, 10 November 2017 at 3:28pm GMT

I've looked at the discussion paper for Synod, and cannot find (though apologies if I have missed it) any kind of definition of what appropriate levels of demand and sacrifice might be for the ordained. Until we identify the boundaries of what is acceptable, and what is not, clergy will be hostages to the fortunes and changing whims of the institution and the unrealistic expectations of those they are called to serve. For example, when is someone going to say that an 18-hour day for most days of the week is unacceptable?

Posted by: David Richards on Sunday, 12 November 2017 at 2:05pm GMT
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