One of my ambitions for 2009 is to find better ways to care better for appointments and colleagues in work. If others know of other similar lists, I’d love to see them. Revisiting my summary, it seems to me to stand up fairly well to the experience I think colleagues are having — but does it? I’d love to know what I’ve missed, or mis-stated.
Factors bearing on the occupational health of incumbents in multi-parish benefices — a generic handlist
Many general facets of being a Vicar in the country are pluses when things are going well relationally, but significant sources of stress when they are not. For example, being housed free of rates rent and maintenance in a four bedroom family house would generally be thought to be a benefit worth several thousands of pounds a year, but the requirement to live in the parsonage house can become a source of significant stress, inducing a feeling of being trapped, if things break down relationally.
This job always requires a higher degree of capacity to manage a work/life balance than would be the case in an occupation which did not require as much working from home.
Particular dimensions and requirements of the job which bear on health include:
Being a rural multiparish incumbent has many dimensions, and that is one of the satisfactions people derive from doing the job. Although no clergy person is perfect, they need to find an approach to their work and the people they serve that is good enough to sustain their sense of personal and professional wellbeing. If this is compromised, the whole structure of deference that used to surround clergy is no longer there, and they can easily find themselves in a lonely, frightening and even dangerous working environment. The occupation requires a high degree of personal self-knowledge, resilience and versatility, or it can turn into a nightmare.
- Interaction with volunteers and the public —
dealing professionally with strangers, which requires significant discernment and versatility. For example, The partner of a person who greatly dislikes you may die, and then you have to conduct the funeral cheerfully and competently. Relating to people of all ages, positively and fairly, is easier if clean and effective communication has been established with a variety of people and organizations including key volunteers such as churchwardens and treasurers. Many members of the public have real difficulty knowing how to respond to anger in clergy.
- Leading public worship —
including family celebrations and funerals and teaching the Christian faith, by word and example, in a way which is sincere and competent, personally grounded, but outwardly focused.
- Administration —
Time and workload management in a basically unsupervised environment, including appropriate record keeping, calls for competent self-management. Work/Life balance needs diligent monitoring and management, and the careful holding of working and relational boundaries in a sustainable way that inspires confidence in others. Hours are mainly flexible and undirected. Clergy aren’t required to, but many of them work longer hours than they should and skimp on holidays.
- On-call and occasional emergency availability —
handling personal and family crises (sometimes acute) with an awareness of the needs of others and ability to manage sensitive and confidential materials professionally.
- Acting as a professional representative of the Church —
with all the complex and personal transference people may have about religion. This means relating to people with differing views, some of which conflict with your own, openly and positively. Sustaining appropriate behaviour in role requires self-discipline, clear thinking, and careful boundary keeping, especially where roles potentially conflict. The job can involve juggling the roles of a parent in the school/ school governor/ chaplain to the school/ Village vicar — all at the same time.
- Leading volunteer teams in a voluntary organisation —
sometimes (especially in a rural multiparish benefice), teams have conflicting and unclear traditions and aims. Local feelings and rivalries can run deep. Your job is to try and provide a focus for unity in the community. Word goes around villages. People are very interested in their vicars — this unlocks high levels of interest and personal support on occasion, especially when the relational infrastructure is there to support the person in their ministry, but can be experienced as oppressive.