Friday, May 12, 2006

Interesting Survey Results

I receive an e-mail update from and in the most recent one there was an article concerning the results of a survey of pastors that has some concerning results. I thought I would post the article in total in my blog, so here it is:

Clergy spiritually exhausted, stressed out

by Amy Cameron

FORGET the demise of the church. Look closer. Our ministers, according to a new study, are spiritually exhausted, stressed out, have few friends and little support. In short, Christian ministry in Canada is, in the words of the author of a recent report, "in crisis."

'Clergy Well-Being: Seeking Wholeness with Integrity,' a report compiled by Andrew Irvine of Knox College,shows that 77 percent of the surveyed clergy felt they were more like a CEO than a pastor; 18 percent could not identify a close friend in church or their community; and 80 percent felt guilty if caught taking time off during the week even though most work a 50-hour week.

"There is a big disconnect between the call to ministry and what they actually do," says Irvine."There were major issues around things like identity, relationships and competition among clergy."

Irvine was recently appointed director of the Centre for Clergy Care and Congregational Health,officially launched in February. Jointly sponsored by Emmanuel College and Knox, both at the University of Toronto, the centre will focus on helping clergy deal with the stressors identified in the study. "How do we use this data redemptively to bring change to the church and those who serve it?" asks Irvine. "We see it as being a crisis."

The study, begun in 2003and funded by the Beatty Ryckman Trust, drew on responses from the clergy in six major denominations in Ontario: United, Presbyterian,Anglican, Evangelical Lutheran, Baptist and Pentecostal. Initially,questionnaires were sent to a sample group representing 30 percent of the clergy. With a 27 percent response rate, the data was then used to focus questions in direct interviews with men and women in ministry.

"Eighty-three percent saw a call to minister in a traditional sense. I am called of God," says Irvine, who also acts as coordinator of theological field education at Knox College and is the author of Between Two Worlds: Understanding and Managing Clergy Stress.

"But then when you ask them about the job, more than 80 percent said that it is more that of a CEO than a pastor."

And with the almost constant barrage of speculation about the demise of the church, adds Irvine,ministers are forced into a position of being more concerned about the survival of the church and its fiscal operation than spiritual leadership.

The issue of clergy health has come up often in the past several years. In 2001, the Anglican Church of Canada's General Synod declared clergy wellness a top priority and formed a task force to look at ways to support ministers.Pilot studies were started in three Ontario communities, and in 2005the clergy in the Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island diocese formed a professional association to offer continuing education, support and information to their members.

On a cold evening in February 2005, hundreds of people gathered in a funky downtown Toronto nightclub for the launch of a new book. All ages and stations were represented at the event, including a local minister and his wife. A well-meaning friend introduced the man to a group of people using his formal title. "Please don't," he stopped her. "Announcing that I'm a minister kills the conversation."

This story, when related to Irvine, elicits a sigh of recognition. "That's very true," he agrees.When he was a minister in the Church of Scotland, Irvine was commonly introduced as "our minister" or "the minister" but rarely, if ever, as"Andrew".

Conversations in social settings inevitably died. "We don't admit to our sins because the holy person is here," he explains. "It is an identity that you can never getaway from. A priest or minister, even when they're at home, remains a priest or minister."

In the past, professional ethics dictated that clergy should avoid forming personal relationships with members of the congregation or community. Any show of favoritism or the whiff of indiscretion could jeopardize a minister's position.

But this strict view has stifled the very human need to make and maintain close relationships."Many clergy could not identify a close friend in the church or the community," says Irvine of those surveyed in the study.

The high level of competition among clergy in the same denomination make even relationships between peers very strained. Many ministers, in fact,could only name their spouse as a close friend which, says the professor, brings up a whole host of other issues around marriage and ministry. "Clergy have been seen as either superhuman who needed no friends or subhuman who could exist without them, but certainly not human."

Isolation, balancing family with the church and fulfilling a minister's spiritual needs are among the issues that Irvine and the centre are examining in their clergy workshops across the country. By bringing together ministers from different denominations but in similar positions (rural vs. urban, for example), the workshops provide a safe and comfortable forum for men and women to discuss their problems and, most important, work toward some solutions.

"Clergy are looking to back away from the heat of the parish to work with their calling and their personal life. These are good people who want, in all sincerity, to serve God and the world in any way they can," says Irvine. "What I believe is that there lies within clergy and each one of us the means to move to recovery and health. We're now being proactive."

The centre, which is still working on a fee structure for its services (though funding will be available to those who need it, assures Irvine), will continue to research the issues surrounding ministry and will work with congregations to establish a vision for the future and help answer the question: what does it mean to be a church in the 21st century?

The ultimate goal, says Irvine, is to eventually offer online courses to clergy on issues not taught in seminary. One course, for example, could be 'How to Deal with the Antagonist in Your Midst.' "There's one or two in every congregation," laughs Irvine.

-- courtesy of Presbyterian Record


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