Work burnout rampant among clergy

UP to 75 per cent of ministers, pastors and priests suffer from stress-related issues, says a psychologist researching clergy concerns, and up to 25 per cent have taken stress leave or suffered serious burnout.

Grant Bickerton said burnout rates were elevated in religious orders because of round-the-clock working conditions, having to deal with death and relationship breakdowns, pressures to have the perfect family and life, and few people to talk to about their own problems.

Clergy also have to deal with suicide, vows of chastity in the Catholic Church, allegations of abuse levelled at peers and investigations including those at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Public royal commission hearings will resume in Sydney today.

Dr Bickerton, who has studied different denominations, said clergy were very isolated and always on call, with few friends outside congregations.

“When you’re struggling, who do you talk to? You don’t talk to your congregation, they’re your bosses. There’s lots of unique stressors,” Dr Bickerton said.

He said if clergy decided they needed a break or leave, they often felt they were failing God.

“They don’t leave their work, they leave their faith, and they leave with big questions: how did it happen, was it me, was it God?”

University of Sydney honorary lecturer Alan Craddock has published a book about despair and perfectionism in ministry and has counselled clergy.

He said there were many who did not want to take time off because they felt it was “letting God down”.

Dr Craddock said the Anglican Church in some states offered spiritual directors, but said the church could do more.

Anglican Bishop of South Sydney Robert Forsyth said many ministers set high ideals and it was not uncommon for them to experience stress and depression.

“There are guys slogging away and they keep it to themselves because they’re a leader to others,” Bishop Forsyth said.

“The hidden stress is harder to deal with.”

He said clergy needed friends outside congregations because communities could “be cruel” without realising it, with too high expectations in a changing religious world.

“In the old days, clergy had a place and (people) respected them.

“These days they don’t have as much respect,” he said.

“People don’t know how to treat clergy.”

Bishop Forsyth encouraged groups of ministers to meet several times a year to discuss their concerns.

The Uniting Church provides supervisors for clergy and has a code of ethics that requires training twice a year, including a self-healing module.

The West Australian Uniting Church said up to 5 per cent of clergy took stress leave annually.

In South Australia there are currently seven on leave.

SA moderator Deidre Palmer said stress was a concern.

“We advise them to take time off, have down time and time with their family and friends.”

December 09, 2013  by Verity Edwards Source: "Work burnout rampant among clergy"

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