16th July 2021

Pastoral supervision – the hows and whys

How one diocese tackled the problem of clergy stress and exhaustion

St Luke’s is always on the lookout for best practice in clergy wellbeing, and in the first of two blogs, we share how pastoral supervision was set up to support clergy in Sheffield Diocese, with Patricia Hunt, Bishop’s Advisor for Pastoral Care

How long have you worked for the Diocese of Sheffield?

Since 2018, when work was being done on the Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing. The Bishop wanted to develop preventative pastoral supervision because of clergy exhaustion and stress and, coming from a professional psychotherapy background, I knew that pastoral supervision would be a means to help.

How did you start?

Through the Bishop’s office, I emailed all clergy, partners, spouses, NSMs [non stipendiary ministers], youth workers etc – about 400 people in all. I introduced myself and invited them, confidentially to me and the Bishop, to write back to me about the things in ministry that most exhausted them. I wanted to do this rather than a survey, and I got so many letters back. It started a dialogue between us.

What kind of issues were named?

Loneliness – many people were incredibly lonely. Many put themselves last all the time – everything else came first. The sheer pressure of work and meetings was another frequent issue and being ‘successful’; if there weren’t enough people in the pews, they felt they had failed themselves and failed God.  I was really concerned about the level of self-denigration.

And the next step?

I fed back the findings to everyone, with the wellbeing offer we had for clergy, which was externally sourced counselling, retreats or this new concept of pastoral supervision – meeting regularly and sustainably in a small, facilitated group, to support their own pastoral care and ministerial work. Everyone was invited to email me if interested – the fact that they were opting in was important, I felt.

How did it go?

Three clergy came forward initially, and that seemed the right number for the group. The costs are mainly a venue and the facilitator, and the Church Burgesses [local philanthropic group] donated £5,000 per annum for three years, so that got us started.

How did clergy respond?

It was clear quite quickly that pastoral supervision would make a difference. Pastoral supervision is confidential – the Bishop doesn’t know who is in the groups. More clergy started to contact me and by the end of 2020, when we officially launched the Covenant in our diocese, there were 36 clergy involved in pastoral supervision.

  • Look out for part 2 on 30 July – what have been the outcomes of pastoral supervision in the Diocese of Sheffield?
  • St Luke’s works with dioceses through Reflective Practice Groups (RPGs), very similar in approach to pastoral supervision. Click here to find out more about RPGs