17th December 2021

Covid and the Covenant

In the second of two blogs, Archdeacon Paul Davies shares an honest account of how the Diocese of Guildford is striving to improve clergy wellbeing

You can read Paul’s first blog here

A second and key part of how we are changing the way we work is introducing ‘Parish Needs Process’, something we’ve been working on for some time. It’s culture-changing. When I arrived here, there were something like 300 courses that the diocese was running and trying to get people to sign up for them. So we’ve turned that inside out and we’ve got Church House going out to every single parish systematically, tied in to an Archdeacon’s visitation. We say to the parish and to the cleric: ‘What is the support that you need at the moment? We may not have all that resource but we’re pretty sure we can signpost if we don’t have it in-house.’ So that’s a big part of our care for clergy, providing the support that they actually need, rather than imposing what we think they need.

Thirdly, we said goodbye to our diocesan counsellor, who was absolutely fantastic and who has been in post for over ten years; she’s relocated to Cardiff. We weren’t expecting to have to deal with this one. But we’re really grateful to the Diocese of Exeter, who helped us source the Churches’ Ministerial Counselling Service. Alongside that, we’ve extended the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to clergy, which we were formerly just using for employees in Church House. That provides particular support with issues like addiction. An area dean’s wife who’s a GP said this is becoming a really big problem in Surrey amongst professional people, and actually I’m seeing it become a bit of a problem amongst clergy. Debit is another issue that the EAP is particularly good with.

Listening

Another essential element is the ongoing work of listening to clergy. It’s what floats my boat as an archdeacon. In this diocese, my role is particularly geared to supporting clergy. I did an interesting desk exercise with area deans and archdeacons, as area deans have quite a lot of contact with clergy and walk alongside them. We did a ‘RAG survey’ and asked each deanery: which clergy are in the green ie really thriving, might be a bit tired but life and ministry are going really well; those who are at amber, who are really struggling and on a weekly basis, things are really tough; and then those in the red group, who are either off sick or perhaps should be. That was frightening; in my archdeaconry, 18% were in the green, 67% amber and 15% in the red. And I think those statistics are quite accurate.

When bishops and area deans met in October, largely about wellbeing, the feedback was about clergy not taking time off; finding it really difficult to get volunteers; management and administration burden taking away from mission and ministry – plus people they deal with seem to be much grumpier! Requests that we heard from clergy were for permission for more time off, so we reminded people that every month, as the Covenant says, we want people to have a clear 48 hours off. Other issues were enabling deaneries to support each other ie can we create a post in every deanery which is about admin and buildings, so it takes a little bit of pressure off clergy? Plus we revisited having Holy Communion each week, which for some is causing a burden, so we’re looking at ways to manage that.

Chipping away

The main conclusion is we haven’t got it all right, there’s a lot more to do and the past year has taken away some capacity to embed the Covenant, but we’re chipping away at it slowly. We get a sense that this is really a cultural change as well as a strategic one.

And finally, we’re really grateful to St Luke’s, with whom we partnered for St Luke’s Week in October. I really want to say how much help St Luke’s has given us, particularly in the past year in reactive situations, where they’ve helped clergy who have hit the buffers a little bit and we have a heart to partner you in that work. Part of St Luke’s Week was focussing all our comms on wellbeing and St Luke’s in particular, and we hope that brought some blessing, in terms of awareness-raising and income generation. With the Covenant, it’s easy to provide a flashy document which goes out to clergy but then just goes into the filing cabinet, so St Luke’s Week is effective at keeping this on the radar.

Read Paul’s first blog here

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