Vicar Ben has said before that spending his working day cycling to people’s houses for cups of teas and biscuits is a great stress inducer – now here is the evidence by Justin Welby to prove it! (Only joking Ben – speaking on behalf of the benefice, we all think you do a great (at what can be at times, a very difficult!) job.
Justin Welby, the leader of the Church of England, has said the most stressful job he has done was as a parish priest, and that clergy need to be better supported.
Speaking at the C of E’s ruling body, the synod, in a debate on clergy wellbeing, the archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the “stresses and challenges” of being a priest.
“The hardest work I’ve ever done, and the most stressful, was as a parish priest – mainly because it was isolated, insatiably demanding and I was on the whole working without close colleagues – and that wears people down,” he said.
Clergy in London and Manchester, dealing with the aftermath of terrorist attacks, would have mental health issues as a result, he said. They had experienced “enormous stress, which will have consequences over the next few years as a result of what they’ve had to go through”.
Parish churches have been central to the community response to traumatic events this year, and Welby is known to be concerned about the impact on priests, emergency services and others who have had to deal with violence, grief and loss as part of their job.
But, he added, there were other “minefields which line our path”. Safeguarding was a huge worry for clergy, he said. “What might come up and what people might be accused of can be a huge worry and concern.”
Internal church disciplinary measures often contributed negatively to the wellbeing of priests. “The process has been the punishment, not the outcome,” said Welby.
A report to synod on clergy wellbeing referred to “the use of the CDM [clergy disciplinary measure] over relatively minor complaints and as a potential vehicle for bullying”.
Introducing the debate, Simon Butler, a vicar in Battersea, said the expectations of parishioners “set us on pedestals only to rejoice in knocking us off again, treating us as amateurs in a world of professionals, expecting a perfection in us that hides great hypocrisy in others”.
Priests have “insecurities and immaturities too, which we often hide behind the role we inhabit”, he added.
Stephen Cottrell, the bishop of Chelmsford, said his job was often a lonely one. “Sometimes [being a bishop] can be a very heavy weight to carry, and sometimes it can feel like you’re carrying it on your own … it can sometimes be a lonely role.”
Yvonne Warren, a psychotherapist in Coventry, said the decreasing number of clergy meant priests in rural areas were sometimes responsible for up to 10 churches. “In my work as a therapist, I’m finding many clergy are burnt-out, many suffer from mental health issues, and families who are the end of their tether,” she said.
The debate on clergy wellbeing drew attention to patchy support for clergy who feel isolated and overworked, and asked synod to consider how to better support them.