Insights from a Clergy Well-being study conducted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic by Rev. Dr. Frederick 'Jerry' Streets throughout Southern New England during the spring and summer of 2022 are now available and they tell an important story in answer to the question posed to clergy, "How are you 'being'?" This and other questions were answered by 445 respondents who participated in this ecumenical research project that was focused on learning more about clergy self-care during the duration of the pandemic. Feedback and information gleaned in this survey may hold valuable implications for clergy well-being.
When was the last time you simply asked your pastoral leader, "How is it with your soul?". Or "How are you managing?" -an especially important overture during times of change or challenge. In his full report, which includes an overview of what clergy shared in conversations held within 11 focus groups, Dr. Streets reports that the results show;
1) denominations would benefit from promoting how more experience clergy can assist less experience clergy in self-care strategies and practices
2) mindful self-care is imperative for the clergy and
3) denominations and local congregations must provide for and promote the self-care of the clergy.
The survey project was done with the support of a grant from the Louisville Institute Pastoral Sabbatical Study Grant Program. In his introduction to the report, Dr. Streets reminds the reader that the conditions under which clergy seek to minister are at once challenging and unusual. While former times may have presented their own unique challenges, today's clergy leaders are working in times of sustained change and challenge. "Ministry is practiced today under uncertain social and global conditions, defined by pandemic, political polarization, social unrest, and global climate change. Many clergy and congregants are coping with a profound sense of anxiety about our world's future as they discern their life's direction." In part, Dr. Streets wanted to know what might inform an answer to the question, "How do we craft systems that support or set an expectation of self-care?"
For these reasons and others, the Area Conference Ministry Team and Executive Leaders of the Southern New England Conference, UCC, recognized the value of the project and offered full support for reaching out to clergy leadership within the Conference to assist in soliciting a response to this timely inquiry. With the support of Area Conference Minister (ACM), Rev. Terry Yasuko Ogawa and in conjunction with her shepherding role on the ACM team, the voices of United Church of Christ clergy in Southern New England are well represented in the survey results and insights.
Highlighted Findings of the report can be found on page 12 and include some of the following:
• Most of the survey respondents were female 65%.
• The mean age was 59.5 years (SD = 12.1) with a range of 25 to 87 years.
• More respondents were employed part-time (58.9%) than full-time (41.1%).
• Caucasian Americans (92.9%) in this study were the majority followed by African Americans
(4.3%) who were represented slightly more than among the mainline denominations (3.0%).
• Clergy who felt good about helping others tended to take care of themselves better and have lower risk for reducing well-being.
• Clergy who engaged in multiple and frequent self-care strategies experienced higher well-being
On page 13 of the survey project report, a working definition of self-care is offered for the purpose of the project. And while at least one respondent participating made mention of their relationship to the term 'self-care', "the wording which can be commodified, and rather maybe we should go back to Sabbath, rest, which can or should be communal." Another participant was "concerned and curious about the correlation between congregational health and clergy well-being." There is indeed an opportunity to learn from what clergy shared in the focus groups and survey report that may illuminate the correlation, if congregational leaders and clergy read and discern for mutual understanding.
In a February conversation regarding the findings of his work with SNEUCC staff members wanting to know more, Dr. Streets offered some implications for our work in support of clergy leaders based on his research findings and experience in trauma work, his leadership in the academy, and his deep and diverse equipping. Two priorities he lifted up are:
1) Our systems should support and set an expectation of self-care for clergy well-being.
2) For clergy leaders, there is a deep need for grief work related to some of what has been lost and some of what has been let go of- and this work should be anchored in our theology and justice awareness.
Rev. Ogawa noted that during the pandemic, the members of the ACM team reported that not all clergy had taken their allotted vacation time through the years of the pandemic and that there is increased conversation about how to support clergy to maintain and deepen their practice of and commitment to Sabbath and their personal well-being. She noted that "an endless cycle of work is unhealthy for anyone", including and especially clergy leaders. She continued adding that sustained practices of mindful self-care enable clergy to maintain healthy boundaries and that healthy boundaries contribute to effective self-care and well-being. The goal then is to bring intention to clergy wholeness on the part of our clergy and our congregational leaders.
Want to know more? We hope you'll join us when Dr. Streets is the guest presenter on April 20th, from noon to 1 PM for our monthly Lunch and Learn webinar entitled: Caring Congregations: What the Pandemic is Teaching Us.
Karen E. Ziel
Karen works in partnership with the team to guide congregations in self-assessment and discernment, and to provide or suggest effective programs for clergy and lay leadership development. Contact her to: Connect your congregation with the tools and...