3rd December 2021

Covid and the Covenant

In the first of two blogs, Archdeacon Paul Davies, Diocese of Guildford, shares some of the nitty gritty of culture and structural change in his diocese around wellbeing in 2021

We launched our Guildford Clergy Wellbeing Covenant in July 2020 and I talked then about the partnership with St Luke’s and with Cognacity, which has been fabulous in launching the Covenant and the framework of reflecting upon patterns of life and work.

I’m not here to say ‘look at Guildford and all the wonderful things we’re doing and we have the healthiest diocese in the UK’! We don’t. I want to tell you a little about what’s gone wrong since last year and what’s gone well too. The context has changed hugely since our launch and I strongly sense that this year has been even harder for our clergy than 2020.

Struggling

Many of our clergy are reflecting that coming out of lockdown has been a jolly sight more complex than going in and they’re still really struggling with managing it. There’s an anxiety about the return to church attendance, commitment, finance and resource. There was a hope for many that a decent holiday over the summer would solve the tiredness but we’re realising that actually it’s a deeper form of tiredness that needs more than a few weeks break. Resource has also been stretched as the urgent has pushed aside the important.

I’ve found that so much of my time in the past year, particularly in terms of pastoral ministry, has been taken up with the reactive, as opposed to the proactive. We’ve seen some serious sickness amongst our leaders. Much of my time has been spent supporting individuals. Beyond pastoral ministry, there’s been a big call on the time of senior clergy to address some of the more strategic challenges that have been bowled at us and in the midst of this, trying to prevent – literally – insolvency. And all this meant that some of the stuff that we were absolutely committed to last year hasn’t happened so we’re some way behind where we’d like to be in focusing on the Covenant.

Chipping away

But all is not lost! We do have an ongoing, chipping-away at our Covenant. We produced a booklet which sets out the Covenant for us in a ‘rule of life’ which involves prayer, work, study hospitality and recreation. It’s stolen from the Benedictine tradition, which is particularly close to my own heart, and the booklet signposts to lots of resources.

Firstly, we can celebrate the mentoring scheme – again, we are a bit behind on this but it will be off the ground by January 2022. In the context of the national Church and the Covenant’s recommendations, we’ve discerned that supervision is too big a resource step for us at the moment. We’ve had some really helpful discussions with Methodist colleagues; it’s now mandatory that all ministers in the Methodist Church have three-monthly supervision and that’s something that is going well but it has proved enormously resource-heavy. So we’re focusing on mentoring, as a step in that direction. I have been mentored for most of my ministry and I really would have struggled without that.

Getting mentoring off the ground

Sadly CPAS (Church Pastoral Aid Society) have stopped their mentoring training, not because they don’t think it’s a good thing but because they’re doing lots of other good things. However they have allowed Guildford diocese to use their material. So we’re offering a training session for people we’ve identified as suitable mentors. It’s been really interesting to see mentors come forward, not just more experienced clergy but head teachers and people in our congregations who are already trained coaches or mentors. They are delighted to give their expertise when they’ve seen how much clergy are struggling at the moment and to journey alongside them. We’re piloting the scheme with 12 mentees and 12 mentors, with a view to rolling out the scheme to incumbents in January. And what’s really heartened me as I tell clergy about this is that every single cleric has asked how quickly can you organise this for me? I’m absolutely convinced this is going to be something that’s scratching where it’s itching.

St Luke’s hopes to revisit Guildford’s mentoring scheme for a blog update in 2022.

Look out for part 2 of Paul’s blog on 17 December, including his frank assessment of the state of clergy wellbeing as we end 2021.

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