9th May 2022

Blog: ‘I’m not sure I would have stayed in ministry without St Luke’s’

Revd Russ Gant began to struggle emotionally when he felt he could not meet unrealistic expectations

How did you come into the ministry?

I came to faith through the Alpha Course when I was 25. I originally trained to be a landscape architect but God had other ideas! I was ordained in 2012 in Guildford Diocese and I was then curate at St Paul’s, Camberley. Family-wise, I’m married to Jenny and we have two daughters, aged nine and 11. In 2016, I took up my first incumbency at St James’, Rowledge.

How did you get on?

I think initially there was some excitement about a new incumbent, following the previous vicar who had done an excellent job for 25 years. Numbers increased quite considerably early on, and I think the fact that we had young children attracted other families, as well as a couple who joined us and picked up the children and youth ministry superbly.

 

How were you feeling?

Things began to plateau a bit and I had a sense of working really hard but that this wasn’t perceived as hard enough. Comments were made by a couple of key people about how much time I was taking off, even though I hadn’t taken my full holiday entitlement. I think with most clergy the issue is rarely that they take too much time off, it’s the opposite. There was also an expectation that I could be constantly contactable and should check email on my day off, even though I had made it clear I could always be contacted in an emergency via my wife. I was always good about taking my rest day on Friday but I was working a ridiculous number of hours outside that, 70-plus a week.

How did this impact your family?

Well, I wasn’t seeing very much of them. There wasn’t much time for Jenny and I. I’m not someone who suddenly goes sky-high in anger but I was getting low and grumpy. I’d frequently wake up in the middle of the night and add to my to-do list in a notebook by the bed.

What about your living situation?

We live next door to the church, which I don’t think is the best idea these days. We had the added issue that that parish office is adjoining our house so people swing into our driveway to visit the office and if no one is there, they sometimes knock on the vicarage door for a key or whatever. I do find that to switch off, I have to get away from the village.

How did you cope?

I think it was late November 2019, fairly soon after that conversation about too much leave, I remember phoning my wife at work and saying I just really need you to come home. I was sobbing and feeling pretty awful. I went to see the doctor and he signed me off work for three months. I was quite shocked because of course early November is about the most inconvenient time for a vicar to suddenly go off sick. I really struggled with the sense of letting people down and burdening them.

How did you get access to therapy?

About six weeks into sick leave, Archdeacon Paul Davies suggested I contact St Luke’s. I started weekly therapy through St Luke’s as I went back to work, most of which took place on Zoom because of lockdown kicking in.

What was therapy like?

The therapist was brilliant, easy to speak to and understanding even though I found it difficult at the beginning. I felt she understood the clergy role and knew where I was coming from. Initially, I found it very uncomfortable because I think I was expressing, and being exposed to, my own weaknesses. Part of it was acknowledging that I tend to be my own worst enemy and have quite an accusatory voice in my head. Very significant for me was thinking about two football coaches – one telling you you’re not training hard enough and the other saying ‘that was a really good effort, let’s work a bit more on a or b’. I think I’m quite a perfectionist and in a role such as clergy’s where there’s always more you could do, always more work, more people you could see, trying to do all those things to the 110th degree is a recipe for burnout.

How have things been more recently?

If I’m being really honest, I would say it’s hard to change the person you are. I’m 45 and I’ve been thinking my way for a long time! Perfectionism is still an issue for me but I’m putting a lot less pressure on myself and learning to accept that good enough is good enough. I’m trying to involve more people and recognise they won’t do it the way I would do it but that’s ok.

What would have happened without St Luke’s support?

I’m not sure I would have stayed in ministry without St Luke’s intervention, to be honest. I think a lot of clergy have those moments where they think about other things they could do. There are still days when I have those thought but equally I have days that are just fantastic and I know this is what God has called me to. When I was leading the Easter service for our church school, a three-year-old came and stood next to me and showed me how to pray properly, which meant ‘closing my eyes and just knowing God was there’. That was just brilliant!

 

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