Clergy struggling to cope with bigger workloads

Parish priests may be able to enjoy the odd bit of tea and cake, but the reality of the job is so much more demanding and many clergy are finding themselves saddled with an ever-growing workload, says the Rev Canon Dr Stephen Cherry.

He has written a new book on the problem, drawing on his own experiences from over 20 years in ministry.

The last two decades have seen him working in parish ministry, as a college chaplain, and most recently as director of ministry with an extensive portfolio at Durham Cathedral.

He says he found himself in danger of being overwhelmed but also saw that many other clergy were facing the same problem.

“The clergy today have much bigger jobs than their predecessors, often in the form of having to take care of multiple parishes or simply ever larger ones," Dr Cherry explains.

"Today’s clergy are, therefore, probably the first generation of those who feel that there really isn’t enough time to do all that needs to be done."

For Dr Cherry, learning to cope with the pressures of the job is about so much more than simply getting the work done. It's also about physical health.

"I am mindful of the high price which long hours and unstructured days can have on clergy. It can eat into their health and morale, fuelling the dreaded burnout.”

It's for this reason that he describes his new book, "Beyond Busyness", as a "health guide".

The book is based on 28 short sessions for daily or weekly use, all packed full with time management tips for vicars and curates.

“Beyond Busyness recognises the reality of this pressure but also appreciates that time management courses and programmes do not usually hit the spot as far as clergy are concerned," Dr Cherry said.

His own personal journey of discovering how to cope better with the work has been a "fascinating one", he says.

A key turning point for Dr Cherry came when he realised that for clergy, time is "a spiritual as much as a practical issue".

"That led me to think in terms not of ‘time management’ but ‘time wisdom’ and to seek to mix traditional advice with spiritual insights," he said.

The Rev Keith Griffin, Team Vicar, Holy Trinity Holmfirth in the Diocese of Wakefield said: “Part of the genius of the approach taken here is the short two-page chapters – called sessions – but don’t be fooled, each packs a powerful punch.”

Dr Cherry said: “The tone is honest but light-hearted and positive. There are some laughs along the way in learning time wisdom as well as maybe the odd tear when people realise that they really can’t do everything everyone expects."

The book is designed to give people the confidence to get a grip on their diaries and find ways of being disciplined in their use of time, as well as flexible in the face of ever-changing pastoral demands.

He added: “The workaholic control-freak within should certainly be tamed by working through the programme. Life will feel more balanced and in 99% of cases ministry more effective. There are some very negative consequences for everyone if the vicar is always busy and displaying ‘White Rabbit Behaviour’.”

Sally Milner, Chaplain at the Northumberland Church of England Academy in Ashington said: “This book has transformed my life and very much for the better. The two-column 'To Do' and 'May Do' list is a revelation that has freed up much productive time. I was already an avid fan of the list but that second column is marvellous."