28th February 2020

Blog: Ready, steady …

Personal and professional development coach Nicola Willcocks, whose previous work contexts have included a theological training college, has recently joined St Luke’s wellbeing training team. In the first of two blogs, she flags up the necessity of wellbeing training and good practice from the very start of a life in ministry

Are ordinands getting enough input on the importance of resilience and looking after their wellbeing from the training colleges?

I think there is always room both for more input and for encouraging ordinands to take responsibility for managing and further developing their own wellbeing and resilience. Workshops like the one run by St Luke’s are essential, thought-provoking and important; they give an opportunity to pause and reflect on one’s practice, to consider doing things differently and can act as a call to action – but they are not enough in and of themselves.  I am not a fan of simply using a resilience day as a ‘sticking plaster’ or a way to tick the ‘resilience box’. Like so many things, building resilience and managing stress are lifelong practices, so it is important to build this into culture and practice.

What good practice have you seen in colleges?

Some of the ideas that are effective include …

  • inviting former students back to college to speak about their experiences and offer their ‘top tips’
  • establishing mutually supportive ‘prayer triplets’ at college that continue into the workplace
  • weaving threads of the practice of sustainable wellbeing throughout the college curriculum and culture eg establishing reflective practice groups, sport, social and community gatherings
  • providing good role models through, for instance, tutors, church placement incumbents or former students
What about the management aspect of leading a parish?

As well as theological discipline, reflection and learning, providing specific, practical training in how to lead and manage needs to be part of a ‘resilience toolkit’ to equip ordinands for their future roles. They are going to be responsible for running an organisation, small or large, with all that entails. As well as setting vision, inspiring and leading their churches, they will be required to manage the more practical matters – people, finances, premises/facilities and a huge administrative workload. This would be enough to test anyone’s resilience!

Doesn’t management training rather miss the point, at a theological college?

 Some people come to college with previous leadership and management experience and have told me that actually this is what is what prevented them from being completely overwhelmed by their role as an incumbent. How are colleges preparing younger ordinands who may not have this kind of experience to fall back on, which could leave them vulnerable? I have spoken to a number of people who have gone on to curacies and have said that more of this kind of training whilst at college would have been invaluable for them.

Why do you think clergy can struggle with setting and keeping boundaries?

I think that, for some clergy, establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries that support them in their work can be challenging. I would answer this question with a number of further questions!

  • Do clergy believe boundaries are ok, necessary and relevant – or not? If not, why not?
  • Can you only be a ‘proper’ vicar if you are always available and work a 70-plus-hour week?
  • Is it because ‘this is the way it has always been done’? – a phrase that has been said is the most dangerous reason an organisation can give for why something happens!
  • How do you apply boundaries to a role that is endless in its demands and asks so much of its leaders?
  • From an individual perspective, is it because a person has a superhero self-image and thinks they don’t need boundaries? Or that they lack assertiveness and can’t say no?
  • Does a lack of boundaries indicate an overdeveloped people-pleasing trait, a concern about what people might think, or a case of imposter syndrome?
  • Does a lack of boundaries meet a need to feel needed, important and indispensable?

The answers to these questions will be different for different individuals and it is important for clergy to explore their thoughts on this with curiosity and compassion.

Want to know more about clergy boundaries and their effect on family life? Look out for part 2 of Nicola’s blog – live on 13 March.