Early this year the General Synod of the Church of England proclaimed an Act of Synod on the Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing. This commits all parts of the Church, and individual clergy, “to sharing responsibility for the welfare of ministers and their households.” Making mental health in the church a focal point seems especially important this year. 

Let’s face it, the mental load and pressure on the modern minister is heavy this year. You’ve had to adapt to delivering a wholly physical church experience online. Now these services must blend into a hybrid experience as congregants go back to church at limited capacity.

Ministering to the most emotionally and physically vulnerable is difficult when you can’t share the same space. Parishioners are isolated, ill, lonely, and frightened. So it’s not surprising if, as a spiritual leader, you may feel that you are not meeting their needs. The impact of this mental load can weigh on you in surprising ways. 

Praying in a mask showing signs of stressRecognise the Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

As the Church of England puts it, having a positive wellbeing recognises the interplay of the physical, emotional, and spiritual health. This works best when you include support systems, either peer or personal. Stress makes it hard to maintain that positive wellbeing.

Signs of poor mental health can be physical, such as headaches, muscle tension, or trouble sleeping. It can affect your diet, causing you to eat more or less. Stress and depression can also increase poor health habits, such as smoking or drinking. Stress also manifests in emotional symptoms, such as a shorter temper, anger, and the more obvious feeling of anxiety or fear.

Effects of Poor Mental Health on Ministry

Stigma and discrimination impact nearly nine in ten people with mental health problems. For instance, in the United States, the Soul Shepherding Institute compiled some stunning stress statistics for church leaders. This was a sampling across a variety of denominations. Among the key findings:

  • 75% of pastors report being “extremely stressed” or “highly stressed” 
  • 90% work between 55 to 75 hours per week 
  • 91% have experienced some form of burnout in ministry and 18% say they are “fried to a crisp right now” 
  • 70% constantly fight depression 

Strategies to Maintain Mental Health and Wellbeing

Taking care of yourself is essential. Sometimes, simple actions can be healing. Here are a few examples:

  • Acknowledge and journal your stress
  • Create daily to-do lists and prioritising the things that matter most
  • Find ways you can delegate tasks to others
  • Say no when you need to
  • Spend time with loved ones
  • Get physically active
  • Do something you enjoy 

Mental Health UK has a useful tool called a Stress Bucket which helps you visualise your stressors and release tension. As a result, you may find hidden stressors you didn’t expect and possible solutions.

Escape into nature and practice mindfulness as a way to improve your wellbeingMental Health Resources for Members of the Clergy

Church of England Supporting Good Mental Health Guide: Series of reflections,  “have-a-go” habits, and Christian meditation techniques. 

Clergy Support Trust: Offers wellbeing grants to help promote greater work/life balance to Anglican clergy, ordinands and their families in the UK and Ireland.

Mindful Employer: A UK-wide initiative to provide employers with professional mental health training, information, and advice. 

Mind: Information, guidance, and support around mental health.

Mind Fit: Mindfulness training and resources for beginners.

Pastoral Division: A Network of people and organisations involved in pastoral supervision and interested in training in pastoral supervision. 

The Retreat Association: Online resources and advice on making a retreat and finding a spiritual director. Also a resources to more than 200 retreat centres across the UK and beyond.

Sheldon Hub: Space for people in ministry to confidentially share ideas, advice, and resources for wellbeing.

St Luke’s Healthcare for the Clergy: Healthcare support for clergy and families. They also offer wellbeing training for clergy via their Resilience Workshop and Reflective Practise Groups.

Pastoral Division: A Network of people and organisations involved in pastoral supervision and interested in training in pastoral supervision. 

The Retreat Association: Online resources and advice on making a retreat and finding a spiritual director.