Vocation is a lifelong journey, not one which ends when we find a job we fancy.
Our robust qualitative and quantitative studies investigate key aspects of ministry in the Church of England, enabling evidence based policy decisions for flourishing ministry.
Our Living Ministry research project
What enables ministers to flourish? How do people develop throughout their ministry? And what does it mean to live out our vocations? These are some of the questions being asked by our ten year Living Ministry research project.
If you you've been involved in this project yourself, take a look at our information for participants.
- Living Ministry Project Summary
- 2017: Mapping the Wellbeing of Church of England Clergy and Ordinands (Quantitative Study)
- 2018: Cohort Update (Quantitative Study)
- 2018: Negotiating Wellbeing: Experiences of Ordinands and Clergy in the Church of England (Qualitative Study)
- 2019: Ministerial Effectiveness and Wellbeing: Exploring the flourishing of clergy and ordinands
- 2019: Living Ministry Wave 2 Panel Survey: Exploring Clergy Debt
THRIVE Wellness Resources
The THRIVE model provides six strategies encapsulating some of the key findings from the first wave of this study. Although they have emerged from the specific experiences of clergy, we are also concerned for the wellbeing of lay ministers and hope they too will find these helpful.
The unbounded nature of much ordained ministry, along with the immense variety of clergy lives and contexts means that structured routines can be elusive. To maintain wellbeing and flourish in ministry, clergy often develop their own life-giving rhythms of work, rest, prayer, exercise and nutrition. These may involve a combination of adapting existing routines such as travel and dog-walking, and designating specific time to particular activities. They may be daily, weekly, monthly or yearly patterns – or any other frequency – and will be more or less fluid and flexible depending on activity and context.
One of the most common causes of stress in all aspects of wellbeing is unclear expectations. This may be about specific mis-matched expectations such as in the context of a new relationship between training incumbent and curate, a clergy family navigating the expectations of congregations, or tensions between a Vicar and her PCC over expense claims, or it may relate to differences between anticipated and actual experiences of ordained ministry or particular roles, whether financial, vocational, relational, physical, mental or spiritual. Clear communication is important, both the capacity to express one’s own limits and perspectives and the capacity to hear and be heard by others.
Along the journey of ordained ministry there are certain times when clergy will be more vulnerable to dips in wellbeing. It is important to recognise such moments, both to put in place preventative strategies and support structures and to maintain perspective. For example, one of the most challenging moments in ordained ministry is the move from curacy to first incumbency. First incumbents describe being overwhelmed by both level and scope of responsibility, and isolated with the loss of IME 2 support structures. This is mitigated for some by mentors, proactive and approachable archdeacons, and training for new incumbents. Wellbeing is also threatened at moments of personal or ministerial crisis, whether a health issue, family bereavement, financial difficulty or congregational problem, and both personal resilience and diocesan support are important at such times. The latter varies, partly according to whether help is sought (and whether the minister feels they can seek help), and may include financial assistance, counselling provision, professional cover, advice, guidance and pastoral care.
Partly because of the problems of relational boundaries in pastoral ministry, ordained ministers often have to look beyond their immediate context in the search for authenticity. Safe, honest and supportive relationships are typically (not always) found in other clergy, whether individuals, longstanding peer groups, diocesan-facilitated reflective practice groups or networks of people in similar circumstances. They may meet on a regular basis for deep sharing and prayer, or communicate via social media for instant support, and often combine both. It should not be assumed that groups built into ecclesial structures, such as deanery chapter, provide such support.
Of utmost importance is the need to be recognised and valued at a human level as well as by God. In the context of a declining church and pressure to increase attendance and ensure financial viability, alongside huge financial investment in specific initiatives, clergy can feel unappreciated, devalued and demoralised. The implications of this cut across all aspects of wellbeing, from the perceived need to reduce personal expenditure to support a struggling church, to physical and mental stress, isolation, guilt, vocational doubt and a strong sense of marginalisation. Awareness of the implications of dominant messages from the church for clergy wellbeing is important, and where clergy receive personal interest in and support of themselves and their ministry, especially by senior clergy, they feel less guilty and isolated, and more known, understood and valued.
Ordained ministry has few formal borders. Clergy, especially those in parish ministry, struggle with work that impinges on family time, intrudes into private space, invades rest and sleep, complicates relationships, inhibits expense claims and expands into all the minutiae of church life. To address this, as well as nurturing healthy rhythms of living, many clergy also seek to develop life-giving boundaries in time, space, mind, role, relationships and even finances. Diocesan support in this is vital in providing guidance, examples, validation and permission.
Among the many benefits of doing this research is the good practice which can be learnt from. Examples of effective wellbeing strategies used by participants can be read below. Note that this is a summary of what participants found helpful, so not all of these points will work for everyone.
One of the best ways to stay well is to establish healthy patterns of prayer, work and rest, including exercise, nutrition and finances. What this looks like will depend on your personality, preferences and circumstances. Finding time to relax and to pray can be difficult and usually requires setting firm boundaries to ensure there is sufficient space for both.
It can be helpful to build prayer and exercise into your daily routine as well as setting aside other times for them. Honest conversations with colleagues, senior clergy and PCCs or congregations about reasonable limits can help to manage expectations regarding, for example, working hours and provision for expenses.
Senior clergy and Ministry Development Reviewers can also encourage healthy living patterns by modelling them themselves and giving clergy much-needed permission to rest.
Strategies used by our participants include:
- Building prayer and exercise into daily travel, school-runs, dog-walking etc.
- Ensuring regular retreats are booked and paid for in advance
- Taking days off and annual leave, outside the parish if helpful
- Switching off the telephone during rest periods, or having separate work and personal phones
- Removing the clerical collar when not formally working
- Writing down work-related issues to deal with later
- Keeping track of hours worked, to give oneself permission to stop
- Ringfencing diary time for rest
- Moving the parish office out of the vicarage
- Rationing meetings
- Developing habits of budgeting, saving and claiming expenses
- Engaging in different roles, interests or aspects of vocation, such as chaplaincy, teaching, religious communities and creative arts
- Giving regular time to personal spiritual development, such as through books, podcasts, conferences and worship outside of one’s own parish
Ongoing, supportive relationships with family, friends and those who accompany us spiritually and professionally are vital to our wellbeing. Some relationships already exist and need time and effort to nurture, and others we have to establish proactively.
Channels of communication include face-to-face informal chats or formal meetings, telephone conversations, email and social media.
Varying times and locations of group meetings can help a wider range of people to access them.
Living Ministry participants gave the following examples of invaluable long-term relationships:
- Family and friends, often needing intentional time
- Spiritual directors, mentors, critical friends and coaches
- Groups meeting regularly for prayer and mutual support (sometimes facilitated, sometimes meeting online), for example arranged around cohort, deanery chapter, role, special interest, colleagues, locality, networks
- Private social media groups for instant prayer and support
- Engagement in wider networks, such as diocesan clergy events and network conferences
Most people need extra support at times, whether professionally, pastorally or financially. As well as personal circumstances, periods of transition between ministerial roles can be especially challenging.
There are a range of possible options to explore, including:
- Diocesan support, which may include financial help, practical cover and advice among a range of wellbeing services offered by individual dioceses
- Mentoring and reflective practice groups for specific moments such as entering first incumbency, often arranged through dioceses
- Counselling, which may be provided and funded through your diocese without the need for them to know who is accessing it
- Charities and trust funds, offering a range of services including financial support, advice, pastoral care and healthcare. Some exist specifically for clergy and others are wider in scope. See here for a list of key sources of support
- Government advice and financial support
Dioceses manage the wellbeing of their clergy in different ways, although the diocesan bishop holds overall pastoral responsibility.
Some clergy feel more connected by proactively getting involved and building relationships within the diocese, and being known, understood and valued by bishops is important to most.
Examples of support experienced by Living Ministry participants include:
- Effective Ministry Development Reviews that are sensitive, challenging and followed up
- Advice from and positive intervention by senior clergy, as and when necessary, including support in making appropriate changes in one’s ministry or working patterns
- Personal contact and support from archdeacons and bishops, whether or not related to specific need
To ensure that all gifts and ministries can flourish, we have worked alongside Transformations, a group of women working since 2011 on the flourishing of women’s ministry, to better understand how women and men experience ministry differently in a range of contexts.
You can find a brief introduction to Transformations here.
The number of women entering training for ordained ministry has grown rapidly in recent years. However, there have been big differences in the age profile of men and women training for ministry. Women have tended to be older, whilst the younger candidates have been predominantly men.
Research partly funded by Transformations in response to a request from the College of Bishops, which identified barriers faced by younger women, has led to a number of vocations events for younger women and boosted the numbers exploring ordination:
Women now account for almost a third of all clergy and made up the majority of those entering training in 2018 and in 2017.
The number of women in senior leadership positions within the Church in 2017 was double what it was five years previously, yet there are still very few women leading larger churches. Several pieces of Ministry Division and Transformations research have looked at why this should be:
- Women and Leadership in the Church: Insights from Gender & Management Literature – gender imbalances in senior management beyond the church – and what the church can learn from this
- Vocational Pathways: Clergy Leading Large Churches – how male and female leaders move through ministry, with a particular focus on incumbents of large churches
- Women Leading Larger Churches – large and very large churches, the barriers to women leading them and what might be done to enable more women to be appointed
Among the good practice findings from these are:
- Creating ways to develop women’s ordained ministries
- Challenging stereotypes
- Ensuring that women are given placements, curacies and developmental opportunities in larger churches
- Sharing good practice around maternity and childcare policies, part-time and job-share posts in large churches
- Watching the wording of job advertisements and how qualities required for a role are described, so as to avoid gender bias
- Training for those making appointments, particularly to be aware of unconscious bias
- Recruiting more women to plant and lead resource churches
All this research has also informed our young vocations work, maternity policies, and our Living Ministry research project.
Other aspects of the Transformations agenda include maternity provision, family-friendly working policies and clergy couples.
How do we best support and sustain ministry? The recently concluded Clergy Experiences of Ministry project looks at the work of over 5,000 clergy to understand how we can best shape continuing ministerial education and development.
How is ministerial education understood from different perspectives? How is it experienced by ordinands, educators, placement supervisors and diocesan directors of ordinands in Phase One, and curates, training incumbents, diocesan officers and churchwardens in Phase Two?
We are blessed to have a wealth of highly qualified people within the Church conducting their own research into ministry-related issues. Below are some of the reports we know of in the area of Initial Ministerial Education Phase 2, and we will add more as they emerge.
None of these studies was conducted by or on behalf of Ministry Division, so we can take no credit and bear no responsibility for their content.
- Edwards, Wendy Jane: Exploring Curate Supervision
- Gerhard, Trevor: The Training of Curates and their Future Ministry
- Knight, Rhona: DDOs and Flourishing Curacy
- Latham, Rosamond Mary: The Making of Priests
- Longden, Lee Paul: Mission Shaped Curacy
- Marlow, Jon: Divine Appointments
- Smith, Gregg: Relationships between Training Incumbents and Curates
We seek to foster a culture of lifelong learning within each diocese, which takes seriously the flourishing of the whole person.
Guidance on continuing ministerial development, including regular review, is available to download below.