Saturday, November 17, 2012

Clergy Wellness and Episcopal Journey Poll

In October I wrote that the 2006 CREDO Clergy Wellness Report said that Episcopal clergy believed "in their general sense of well-being, confident in undertaking new challenges, and commitment to their ministries are strong."  However, our Episcopal Journey of Hope poll tells a different story.  Only 12% of the respondents said that the 2006 report is accurate today.  54% of you said that we are not as well off today is reported six years ago.  15% of you said that perhaps clergy wellness is the same as 2006 and 12% report that you had no clue.  For me the most significant thing is that only 12% of the respondents felt like we are as well today as we were six years ago.  The question is then, WHAT HAPPENED?  WHY DO WE BELIEVE THAT WE ARE LESS WELL TODAY THAN WE WERE SIX YEARS AGO?

I interviewed some clergy friends and elicited some very strident opinions. 

I asked a bishop what he thought.  He suggested that the clergy responding to the 2006 questionnaire were not telling the truth.  In his conversations with diocesan priests he often heard them say that they were all right when in fact they were falling apart.  My experience mentoring clergy bears this out.  Priests tell themselves they are OK.  They believe that they ought to be OK.  They deny that they are not OK.  They are loathe to admit to someone that they are not in good shape while inside he or she may be trembling.

I digress.  How about conducting a bishop wellness survey?  I've been ordained more than 50 years and my experience with many bishops led me to question the sanity of some of them.  Come on CREDO, conduct a wellness report on the Episcopacy.

The priests I interviewed told me that accelerating church and financial decline has enhanced clergy feelings of stress, inadequacy, hopelessness and self-esteem.  Because the church has reached the edge, reality has set in and this has caused the clergy to think that they are not as well as they were six years ago.

One priest told me that at his recent diocesan convention the clergy and delegates were walking around looking like "zombies."  Well, perhaps that is an overstatement.  But then again, maybe parish priests are feeling the shock of our rapidly sinking ship.

Another priest said that late ordinations are a significant factor in clergy wellness.  Late ordinands soon discover that they won't and can't reach their full potential.  Many become Vicars or Rectors of very small churches, wake up to the reality that its really not as neat as they thought it would be, become aware of the fact that they will not advance and  become stressed, discouraged or depressed. 

The irony is that some late vocations become rectors of big churches and others are elected bishops without any real history of parish ministry.  This is discouraging to many priests who have labored in the trenches for many years, have been tutored parish by parish in the rigors of parish ministry, and then are bypassed by those with little or no experience in corporate rectorships and diocesan bishop elections.  The Presiding Bishop and my own bishop are perfect examples of this. 

Some felt like the financial situation in our country contributes to the decline in church finances and therefore leads to clergy insecurity which leads to increased stress.

I thought that CREDO was going to conduct a wellness survey again in 2012.  If so, I wonder what that report will look like?  However, if what I am hearing on the street is true, Episcopal priests are not feeling as well as CREDO suggested they were six years ago. 

My advice?  If you are depressed and stressed get a soul friend, a therapist and a support group.  And be prepared to change careers.  You have the skills that translate into a non church job.  On the flip side, some of you will make it through the thickened labyrinth of our declining church.  Just protect your sanity along the way anyway you can.  Its going to be tough.


  1. I thank you for your fine comments and research. You have reached into the core of the issue. You are telling the truth which I experience and I thank you.

    Listen up folks.

  2. Bob, Thank you for keeping the topic of our spiritual, mental, intellectual, and physical well being in front of us. It is a goal in the many parts of the secular world to have leadership positions filled by those that are “fully qualified” and then to promote the “most qualified” from that group to senior positions. Somehow the Church equates ordination (or a clerical collar) as a symbol of being fully qualified; of course, it is not! In fact many of our bishops, priests, and deacons never become fully qualified because they lack opportunity and/or proper mentoring. They learn to dog paddle only to drown in the swift currents of church life.

  3. I also wonder whether the CREDO survey respondents are a skewed sample. Many unhappy priests that I know would never have anything to do with CREDO.

  4. Garrin, that is a very intriguing observation. I know I have refused to go to a Credo event three times now. I see no point to it or its expense except for some fellowship. I do not think I would have felt this way twenty years ago.

  5. The TED Talk and Video once again makes the point that spirituality is best experienced in dynamic digital space. The media is the cosmic spiritual massage.Again the issue is the left brain/right brain problem.

  6. I was a priest for 33 years. Retired in 2005 and left the ministry in 2006. In my retirement I am starting a new career as a Ministry Coach & Consultant. I sense that this is greatly needed. When I read the CREDO report I was rather surprised. My own leave taking had to do with an issue of wellness.