Local clergy met this morning to hear a talk about stress in clergy families.
Stress provokes growth and adaptation. Stress keeps us alert and on our toes and enables us to respond to emergencies. In short, stress in sharp doses is good. But when it’s prolonged, it leads to ill-health, immune system depression, gastrointestinal problems, cancers, mental burnout, and more.
Clergy stress results from all sorts of things: lack of boundaries, unreasonable expectations of, and by, self and others, feeling one has responsibility without authority, living in a goldfish bowl (‘I demand to know the colour of your bowel movements today, Rector’). In some cases, clergy bring stress on themselves by wanting to be needed – in itself a personality disorder. But worse is the effect of stress on clergy wives, clergy husbands, and clergy children. A clergy spouse effectively becomes a one-parent family in a busy parish. The phone rings at unsocial hours. ‘I know it’s the Rector’s day off, but ….’ Well, you might know it, but clearly you don’t respect it. Get off the phone now this minute, and ring tomorrow at a reasonable hour.
None of the things that have caused me grief in seven years of ordained life was dealt with in theological training. All of them are largely ignored by the organisation, such is its corporate hypocrisy and its ability to pretend that black is white. Here are some of them.
- Enquiries about ancestors and complaints about graveyards. I was ordained to serve the living not the dead. I do not care about graveyards.
- Legal matters about buildings and land. I have no legal training and am not a property manager. I am not interested in title deeds, and if I have to be, I want the proper fee.
- Conflict between mission demands, such as, the organist is so bad s/he needs to be sacked, and pastoral demands, if s/he is, the rest of the community will be offended because s/he’s related to them all.
- People choosing to take offence.
- Being dumped on by those higher up in the food chain who seem to justify their existence by finding hoops for increasingly hard-pressed parish clergy to jump through. This is a Church of England thing. Thankfully, the structure and finances of the Church of Ireland mean that the few people up the food chain are so busy that they don’t have time for this.
- People thinking that everything is the Rector’s job. If you want it done, do it yourself, and stop bellyaching at me.
- People thinking that it only counts if the Rector does it. Ordination is magic.
- Petty squabbles. Some people need to grow up.
- Self-appointed ‘royal’ families in a parish. These cause awful problems.
- Refusals to accept that the law of the land means that old ways of doing things are no longer legally acceptable.
- Refusals to accept the church’s regulations.
Over the last seven years, these are some of my experiences:
- phone calls at unsocial hours about ancestors;
- mother in law moaning about wedding arrangements;
- stroppy letters about the state of the graveyard;
- nuisance calls, several at 2 am;
- being shouted at and shunned in public;
- complaints about preaching the gospel;
- a threat of physical violence;
- callers ‘needing’ a bus fare to somewhere or other, stinking of booze (lots of these, and actually, I don’t mind them – at least these souls know they are needy);
- powerlessness and perplexity about legal affairs;
- sleepless nights, anxiety, diarrhoea, stress-related gobbling, incipient despair …. and more.
I have it easy compared to some, who are driven to resignation or early retirement. Some clergy find meetings and minutes and agenda and rules difficult to cope with. I do not. But all this nonsense detracts from my caring for the sick, helping the afflicted, reading, reflecting, preparing teaching and sermons, burying baptizing, marrying, and making sure worship is seemly and inspiring.
Fortunately, my pre-ordination life experience has given me the buoyancy to keep my head above water most of the time. Maybe putting this in writing will help others.