Clergy mental health
The work we as clergy do can be tough. Very often the post-Sunday-service joke, ‘What do you do on all the other days of the week?’ rings hollow. Clergy work six days a week and we are notorious for not taking our day off.
When I lived in Hong Kong from 2002 to 2006 there was the understanding that as a Cathedral chaplain I would regularly arrive early to take an early morning Eucharist at 8 o’clock which was followed by breakfast in a hotel restaurant. I would often have a working lunch at one of the hotels or private clubs and then I would work through until the office staff left at five o’clock in the afternoon. But then sometimes there would be an evening meeting and I might not head home until nine o’clock.
How could I ever complain when my day had included two or three exquisite meals and I had been working with some wonderful people? How could I be depressed in such an exciting city? I am fortunate that the people I worked with noticed things before I did myself. I am not sure what they noticed, but apparently I have an expressive face. One priest colleague suggested I start running again, and we subsequently both ran the Macau Marathon a year later. A member of the congregation recommended stretching and relaxing my brain with cryptic crosswords. I found I had more time in my day for my work, even when I fitted in running and crosswords.
I have tried to keep both these activities going over the years. It is well known that physical exercise has a positive impact on our mental wellbeing. But less discussed is just how much it has a positive impact on our spiritual wellbeing. I found running gave me a space where I could pray and meditate. When I have confessed this to other runners, even ones with no formal church relationship, I am surprised by how many others agree and comment that they resonate with this observation.
But running is not for everyone. In the last months of COVID-19 restrictions, I have had to consider this myself. My doctor recently advised me to reduce or even stop my running as I have dodgy and painful arthritic knees. To keep my own knees a while longer, I need to limit high-impact activities. So these last few months have been tough for me, as I work out what strategies I will embrace to manage stress and the unique demands of a clergyperson’s role. I have needed to reconsider where am I going to find the space and time for prayer and meditation now I cannot run. The answer will involve a balance of swimming, walking and cycling.
This recalibration is something we all have to do at one point or another; however, it is not something we have to do alone. Too often we shoulder our burdens alone. At one point when I was feeling quite flat and worn out from ministry, I went to see my trusted GP to seek his advice. While I was half-expecting him to refer me to a psychologist or counsellor, which I was very open to doing, he didn’t. Instead he suggested that I run more and this did the trick.
Finding the right people to talk to is vital and being open about our very human struggles is greatly important, as I have sought to do here.
The older I get the more ready I am to have such conversations and the less worried I have been about seeking help from GPs, counsellors and physiotherapists.Jump to next article