19 February 2021

Blog: The ones we love

In the second part of her blog, Church of England Research Officer Liz Graveling takes a look at our relationships with family and friends and how to keep them healthy in a ministry context

I was once kindly offered space for a small rural meeting by a vicar I didn’t know, in the vicarage. He welcomed me warmly, showed me into a comfortable sitting room, made tea and brought biscuits. After the meeting, I followed voices to find my host sitting in the kitchen with a woman and two teenagers. As I entered, silencing their conversation, they sat stock still, only the vicar, still warm and smiling, turning to look at me. I thanked him for his hospitality and left quickly, wondering if they were sitting in the kitchen because I had taken their living room and uncomfortably aware of being yet another unwanted intruder into private family life.

Under pressure

When 529 clergy were asked which sources of (human) support were beneficial to their ministry, family came top of the list, followed by friends. Close relationships are important for clergy, for their ministry, and for the other people concerned.

Yet these are the relationships that often suffer amid the rigours of ordained ministry. Long and unsociable working hours; blurred boundaries around work and home, public and private, time and space; education disrupted by moves; tied housing; limited finances; the public glare: ordained ministry can place enormous pressure on close relationships.

Like the rest of the population, clergy have a wide range of family situations. Some live alone, some with others; some are near to family and friends, others are distant. Some care for children or parents, or both. Some have a joint ministry with their partner, some partners prefer to keep their distance. Whatever the situation, ministry is likely to affect friends and family, and vice versa.

Me and you

Wellbeing in this context is deeply interdependent. A child’s mental health challenges will affect your own wellbeing and possibly impact your ministry in various ways. Likewise, both your family and your ministry will affect and be affected by your own state of mind. It plays out in big decisions about jobs, houses and schooling, and everyday ones about when you take time off, who picks the children up from school, when you check your email – and how often you allow other people to meet in your living room.

Thankfully, in many ordained roles there is much flexibility and room to negotiate. Here are some strategies clergy have found helpful in looking after themselves and their loved ones:

  • Recognise that attending to your own wellbeing is essential for your work, so taking time to invest in close relationships (including friends) is legitimate and important
  • Communicate: how are family members experiencing things? Are they involved to the extent they want to be? Are they able to follow their own vocations?
  • Manage the expectations of congregations regarding your family
  • Prepare families emotionally for moves: talk through what you’ll miss, what you’re excited about etc
  • Set boundaries around work, eg time, space, phone, days off, holidays
  • Optimise whatever flexibility you have
  • Apply for grants for holidays or family support where needed*
  • Reach out for support if you or your family is struggling, including using counselling where helpful

St Luke’s is here to help with you and your family’s mental health. Click here to contact us

Read more here:* https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2020-11/Wellbeing%20-%20sources%20of%20support%20for%20clergy%20and%20ordinands.pdf ]

Find the first part of Liz’s blog – Navigating relationships with congregations – here