Featured letters: Clergy in institutional ministries lack support

By on February 1, 2007

Dear editor,
Colin Proudman’s letter in your January issue (Clergy malaise is due to unrealistic expectations of them) might well have carried the headline, for many clergy serving in institutional ministries, Clergy malaise due to episcopal neglect of them.

As an Anglican priest having served 16 years in parish ministry and 23 years in hospital chaplaincy, I can attest to the fact that episcopal oversight and even interest in my ministry has been almost nil. On the 25th anniversary of my ordination I felt obliged to remind my bishop that perhaps I and other priests serving in institutional ministries ought to be accorded the same recognition given to clergy serving in parishes, that is, a minimum of a letter from the bishop acknowledging our ministry in and on behalf of the diocese.

As a priest called to hospital ministry it was my privilege and joy to serve in a veteran’s hospital, ministering to veterans of many wars and conflicts, and their families. Subsequently, as a chaplain in a general hospital for 13 years providing pastoral care to patients, families and staff, I received no episcopal oversight, nor did any bishop, express any interest in my ministry. Was it because I was not on the diocesan payroll? Or not paying into the pension fund? Or not participating in diocesan committees? I did not know then and still do not know.

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The most rational and satisfactory explanation that I can come up with is that bishops simply do not know what to do with chaplains serving in institutions like hospitals, psychiatric facilities and prisons. They have no direct oversight, cannot treat clergy as employees because they do not pay them, so they leave them to their own devices. A simple one-minute phone call every few months would have been all that was needed to help me feel that the church hierarchy cared about me and my ministry. But it never happened!
Rev. Alex Morris
Brantford, Ont.

Ancient structure

Dear editor,
Re: Clergy struggling with identity and feelings of loneliness, exhaustion (December Journal).

I am hardly surprised that the clergy feel a crisis of identity, as they are being asked to cope with an impossible job. The managerial structure of a parish is based on pre-industrial revolution England. It assumes that the clergy are the centre of an intimate, stable society, with recognized roles and defined duties (plus stable finances); in other words, a world and a couple of centuries away from the modern reality.

We then compound this by the fact that we do not (and probably should not) recruit clergy for their management ability. A recent survey has shown that the criteria for selecting ordinands are quite the opposite. Plus, we do not train them in management. They are also supported at the parish level by a vague group of well-meaning amateurs.

The solution must be to evolve a structure that supports clergy. We must allow them to carry out their spiritual role and not dump impossible managerial tasks on their unprepared and usually unqualified shoulders.

The church must move away from the centrality of the “talented amateur” in church affairs and use professional management to provide the infrastructure to liberate the clergy to get on with the job of the ministry – which they and presumably the Almighty chose for them.
Hugh Phillips
Montreal

There is help

Dear editor,
The article Clergy struggling with feelings of loneliness, exhaustion (December Journal) is powerful and on target. That is the reason www.epastornetwork was created – to provide ministers from all denominations a safe place to focus on themselves as they minister. It seems they pastor and forget about themselves, damaging their effectiveness and families. The Bible clearly instructs to “keep watch over yourselves and all the flock” (Acts 20:28). It is interesting that the inner self comes before the flock. I hope you will share that there are solutions to this tremendous problem you have perfectly described.
Jan Hinton
Wallburg, N.C.

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