Is The CofE Letting Clergy Down? Report Calls For Military-Style Covenant Pledge

The Church of England is considering a military covenant-style pledge to care for its clergy amid mounting concerns about patchy and inadequate support on offer.

Church leaders will be asked to commit to a set of "minimum standards" over clergy wellbeing as a report found priests are offered less support and care than other professions such as the army.

A report says Church of England clergy are offered inadequate care, with those in rural areas suffering the most.Toby Melville/Reuters

Clergy "have always had many emotional and psychological demands placed upon them but, unlike the other professions where similar demands are encountered, the level of institutional support or reward is less well-developed", the report read.

Written by leaders in the House of Clergy, the report will be presented to clergy when the CofE's general synod meets next month.

It found support available varied drastically across the UK, with many dioceses only intervening in crises rather than working on prevention and mental health support.

The postcode lottery of care on offer affects clergy in rural areas particularly, it added, with priests in urban areas generally better cared for.

The report also identified the Church's programme for growth as a source of stress and concern for clergy with some pointing to "the emergence of a 'target' or 'quantitative' culture".

Renewal and Reform is a project to reverse the steady decline of the Church of England in recent decades. It was launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury and changes the funding different parishes receive to incentivise growth and evangelism projects.

Critics say the drive is towards a more managerial style of leadership with clergy expected to act more as business managers than pastors.

"Perceptions about this tension, which may or may not be accurate, affect a wide range of issues, especially in the relationship between bishops and their clergy," the Wellbeing report reads.

"If left unaddressed these tensions are often a major driver as to why clergy morale and wellbeing can be negatively affected, or why clergy are perceived to disengage and retreat into a narrow parochialism."

The drive to fight the decline has also included a push towards recruitment but the report warns this could affect the overall care on offer for priests.

"Clergy wellbeing can easily be seen as 'nice to have' rather than essential, say by comparison with the need to maximise the number of parochial clergy," it says.

The Society of Mary and Martha Sheldon offers a retreat and support for clergy but there is no requirement for the Church of England as an institution to offer regular counselling or mental health support for its clergy. 

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