What is professional supervision?
In 2019, I was approached to take part in a clergy professional supervision pilot program, organised by the Parishes and other Mission Agencies Commission. Initially, I was reluctant – the 60-hour week of caring for my parish, Archdeacon duties and somehow fitting in time for my family all weighed against something else being put into the timetable – but there was a compelling case for clergy from different ecclesial backgrounds and levels of experience to take part, so I agreed.
The first task was to choose a suitably qualified counsellor. A comprehensive list was provided and considerations included the location, availability, counselling framework from which the counsellor was drawn (i.e. secular or religious, and if religious the denomination of the potential supervisor, etc). Confession being good for the soul, but not always the best for reputation, I must admit that when my eye fell on the name of somebody based in Bardon, a short drive from my place in St Lucia, I thought that would be a good choice regardless of any other considerations. This somewhat arbitrary decision turned out to be serendipitous and I agreed to see Sr Catherine Heffernan from the Sisters of Mercy at their centre near Stuartholme School.
I must say from the outset that Sr Catherine’s ministry to me as my professional supervisor was beyond any hopes I had entertained before especially given, as I’ve already intimated, my initial reluctance to take part. We met monthly or thereabouts on nine occasions, and after my reticence and curiosity at our first encounter, I came to look forward to our time together. We met in a special room set aside for this purpose, which was reassuring and restful. For our first session, Sr Catherine had chosen a text, prayer or reading selected from some interesting and appropriate work, which formed the basis of our initial discussion. Sr Catherine then carefully drew our conversation into taking stock of what was going on in my life and ministry.
Around the time that I became engaged in this pilot program, I was considering retirement and wondering what that might mean and look like. This became a regular theme in our conversations and Sr Catherine’s searching questions and enthusiastic encouragement were a great help to me in articulating and investigating my retirement plans.
Another interesting strand of our nine-month long conversation (I use this description of our encounter deliberately, as there was nothing clinical or forensic about our discussions, and because of Sr Catherine’s skill, I never felt as though I was being ‘interviewed’) was the state and work of our respective churches. We both agreed very early on in our time together that our denominations were in many ways effectively “broken”, and how one worked, ministered and lived in this context provided much food for thought and discussion.
Sadly, the formal program finished in December 2019. I intend to resume this program of supervision at my own expense when I conclude the long service leave I’m currently taking. I commend this program to all clergy and hope that you will have the good fortune to engage with a supervisor as thoughtful, engaging, skillful and God-centred as I did.Jump to next article