By Dr Liz Graveling
‘I just don’t think I’m capable of the effort that’s needed for 10 years of this,’ she said, her face looking matter-of-factly at me from the screen. ‘I’ll drop dead.’
The last few years have been challenging for people in Christian ministry, especially those who, like Catherine, are recent entrants into church leadership. The covid-19 pandemic, followed by the rising cost of living, has taken a heavy toll on physical and mental health, relationships and finances. The church landscape has been thrown up in the air and there is still widespread uncertainty about how it will settle and what the implications are for ministers. For many, the energy and creativity of the early days of lockdown were replaced by heavy tiredness, isolation and demoralisation from which it has been difficult to recover.
And yet, as the group discussion continued and others shared their stories, she smiled. ‘It’s still an amazing place to be, and it’s an amazing privilege to be asked to do these things, isn’t it? … The sense that in all this mess I’m being me, in the most deep and profound way possible, is very sustaining.’
Catherine is one of a group of clergy taking part in Living Ministry, a research project following cohorts of ordained ministers over several years to understand what helps them to flourish. Living Ministry is exploring questions like: is it possible to experience the sense of vocational fulfilment that Catherine articulates without compromising other aspects of wellbeing? How can the church support its ministers and what can they do to take care of themselves?
Managing expectations and boundaries, adapting healthy rhythms of life, recognising when we—and others—struggle, and ensuring people know they are loved and valued are all part of the answer, as is having in place robust support networks of peers, colleagues, mentors, senior clergy, spiritual directors, counsellors, family, friends. Such things are crucial in the good times, to keep us thriving, as well as in the tough times, when we’re just clinging on or realise things desperately need to change.
Supporting our own wellbeing is not something we should have to do alone: it is a responsibility we share with each other, to ensure ministry nourishes and sustains more than drains.
You can explore and reflect further on what wellbeing might look like in ministry and some practical ways to support it. Join James Woodward and Liz Graveling at Sarum College for a day course on 9th February. Click on the button below for details.
Dr Liz Graveling is an experienced qualitative and mixed methods researcher with a background in international development and religious studies.
Her areas of research include religion & development, clergy flourishing & wellbeing, gender & ordained ministry and theological education & formation.