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Clergy well-being a priority in Canada

Posted on: April 25, 2002 12:27 PM
Related Categories: Canada

The enormous changes in Canadian society over the past several decades have put clergy under more physical and mental stress than ever and the church is seeking ways to improve and support clergy and staff well-being.

Women have moved into the working world and into the ranks of the ordained, so two-career couples among clergy are becoming more common, leaving clergy families to deal with childcare and time-management issues.

The same trend among parishioners means that the rector's hours aren't nine to five one, since many parish meetings must be held in the evening when people are off work. "In addition to finances, pastoral care and liturgy and some social work there is now screening of volunteers, consideration of legal issues and shifting demographics," said Eileen Scully, ministry and worship consultant with General Synod's faith, worship and ministry committee.

"Every profession has its stresses. Ordained ministry comes with particular stresses and there is increased stress on clergy from a variety of angles," she noted.

Last summer, General Synod identified clergy well-being as a top priority. Bishop Fred Hiltz, of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, is leading a Council of General Synod (COGS) task force that is looking at ways to improve and support clergy and staff well-being.

"The task force met in March and will report to COGS at its next meeting this month. It is asking dioceses what programs they have that address clergy and staff well-being," said Ms Scully, who is working as General Synod staff member to the committee.

We contacted each diocesan synod office and asked two questions:

  • Have you done a study in the last five to ten years on clergy wellness or health?
  • Do you have any programmatic oversight for these concerns?

She replied, "Programs in this area could include an employee assistance program, which provides paid counselling for employees. Some dioceses also address wellness concerns during their regular clergy conferences. 10 out of 29 dioceses have responded so far."

General Synod's pension committee has told COGS several times that it is concerned about the number of long-term disability claims received in recent years. The pensions department administers General Synod's long-term disability plan, which applies to Canadian clergy, some lay diocesan staff and employees at the General Synod office in Toronto.

At the November 2001 COGS meeting, a report from the pension committee said that the number of long-term disability claims in force as of 30 Sept 2001 is 59 and of that number, 37 per cent "are of a psychological nature." (There are approximately 2,100 active members and 1,900 retired people covered by the pension plan.)

The committee also reported that the plan paid $1,027,800 in claims as of 30 Sept 2001, up from $756,992 in 1999. Claims in 1998 were $563,489, according to the plan's 1999 report.

The ecclesiastical Province of Ontario has identified clergy mental and physical health "as a serious issue," and is planning a pilot study of wellness issues in Huron, Niagara and Toronto.

A national committee can gather information and disseminate it, because "even those dioceses with no program recognise this as an important issue," she said. However, both the Province and the members of the wellness committee realise that this is not necessarily an issue solved at the national level but "down close to the ground" in parishes and dioceses, she added.

"Previous studies have shown that the first five years of ordained ministry are a critical time and that new clergy need mentoring and support," said Ms Scully.

The committee also discussed the existing system. "We need to do some diagnosis of the state of health of the church and all who minister," Ms Scully said. "What do we expect as a system of those who minister? Do we put too much stress on the clergy? Too much stress on the bishop?"

This article appears in the May 2002 issue of Anglican Journal