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Reaching for the rescue ring

Reflections

“In the distant past when I was at theological college, I remember being told that most clergy are introverts – one of God’s little jokes. This means that our feelings can be buried deep and difficult for us to articulate, let alone understand or untangle,” says The Rev’d Canon Dr Marian Free

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Clergy mental health

In the distant past when I was at theological college, I remember being told that most clergy are introverts – one of God’s little jokes. This means that our feelings can be buried deep and difficult for us to articulate, let alone understand or untangle. When we experience this, we might have a feeling of dis-ease or have less energy, without identifying an underlying cause. When we feel stuck or overwhelmed it is important to seek professional help for ourselves and so we mitigate the risk inflicting our malaise on others. It is a sign of maturity rather than weakness to identify the need for help and to seek it.

Some bumps in the road are relatively easy to recognise and manage. For example, in 2011 I relived all the loss and grief of the 1974 flood, as waters once again inundated the family home. A month later I was in Christchurch when the earthquake struck. It is now a distant memory, but at the time I was unsettled and even felt ‘stuck’. I was aware that I wasn’t quite myself but was not sure what to do about it. After I had shared the story with a clinical psychologist, I was able to move on.

Other roadblocks can be more complex. I have taken very seriously these words from the ordination service:

“Remember that you will be called to give account before Jesus Christ: if it should come about that the Church, or any of its members, is hurt or hindered as a result of your negligence, you know the greatness of the fault and the judgement that will follow.”

The problem is that I am human – as are members of the various congregations that I have been called to serve.

There have been times when I have been aware that relationships within parishes are not what I’d like them to be. Sleepless nights and fervent prayer do not necessarily bring about the desired results, and often lead to more anxiety regarding the situation and an increase in the sense of inadequacy. Whether the breakdown in relationships is related to something I’ve done (or not done), to personality clashes or to unmet needs and expectations in the other, I’ve found that it is better to seek professional help rather than be overwhelmed.

The ongoing COVID-19 situation is creating stresses of its own – learning new ways of doing things, wondering if we are offering the right level of pastoral care or if we are communicating well enough, while being isolated from our support networks of colleagues and parishioners, are very challenging.

We don’t have to drown when we know that we can reach out for a rescue ring. So, if you are struggling, I encourage you to see your GP and ask for a referral to a counsellor or psychologist or contact a mental health practitioner directly.

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