Embedded in Relationship
As I move from the second to third year of a Counselling Psychology doctorate this summer was supposed to be spent focused on writing up my thesis but during two weeks in August I found myself drawn inextricably towards the television. Captivated, along with millions of others, by the heady feats of prowess at the Olympics. While I was still early to bed, my morning alarm call prompted an immediate check of the BBC Sport App’s Rio update as I anticipated the flood of gold, silver and bronze won overnight, gleeful at Britain’s increasingly dominant presence on the medal table.
While I loved watching every athlete strive for their Olympic dream I was struck by what came after their success. When Jade Jones grasped victory in her gold-medal Taekwondo match she leapt with joy then immediately dragged her coach, Paul Green, into the centre of the mat, holding his hand aloft, “It’s all down to my coach,” she said. Similarly Adam Peaty interviewed after winning his 100m breaststroke gold talked in the plural about what “we” achieved and how “we” did it. There was a deep recognition that winning was no individual effort [i].
Sometimes these coaches were invisible, immersed within the Rio crowds. At other times they were close by their athletes, encouraging them, focusing them, directing them, admonishing them. I was particularly delighted by the USA coaches during the Men’s Synchronised 10m Platform final, who roared and cheered on their pair no matter what the quality of the dive. They eventually gained silver, edging ahead of GB’s Daley & Goodfellow, no doubt inspired and strengthened by their cheerleading coaches’ relentless belief and confidence in them.
Gold medals are not solo achievements and they are not won in ivory towers. Athletes Helen Glover and Heather Stanning in the Women’s Coxless pair came to Rio having won gold at London 2012 and talked of the immense pressure it was to defend a title [ii]. In London they were relatively unknown with little expected of them. Now they had the weight of a medal, the intrusion of the press and the expectation of a nation. While years of relentless training had prepared these athletes for the physical challenges, Olympic success brought unexpected pressures stemming from their role in the nation’s consciousness, becoming public property and media obsessions. Some manage this more successfully than others.
The empowerment gained through enabling relationships and the pressure experienced when relationships place expectations and demands upon you are not unique to Olympians and my research looks at the impact of these experiences on clergy. While the traditional understanding of a Church of England vicar is one who works with a single parish community the 2012-2015 Ministry Statistics of the Church of England [iii] indicate that almost 30% of stipendiary clergy now have more than one post and over 30% of clergy are the only clergyperson in a multi parish setting. When you also take into account the roles clergy inhabit within their communities and their commitment to family and friends it builds a complex web of roles and relationships which offers both resources and demands.
Studies exploring the causes of clerical stress and burnout have found that facing unrealistic congregational expectations, dealing with conflictual situations and managing the diversity of the pastoral role are some of the interpersonal scenarios which may act as significant sources of ministerial pressure [iv, v]. Alongside this, research including the recent Church of England’s Experiences in Ministry project, that have sought to identify factors which sustain clergy and promote their well-being, have highlighted the importance of support from colleagues and one’s congregation [vi, vii]. Neither athletics nor church leadership are solo efforts and everyone needs cheerleaders.
To explore this complex relational dynamic in greater depth the Church of England’s Research and Statistics team will shortly be distributing a questionnaire survey on my behalf. Sent to a random sample of full-time stipendiary clergy it will explore participants’ current experiences of ministry, the varieties of pressures and resources they encounter within their role and their family and relationship systems. Alongside this the research is also investigating the impact on well-being of a group coaching course, designed to offer an empowering response to the emotional and relational demands of ministry. These groups are being run with clergy from Southwark, Newcastle and Ely Church of England dioceses.
I look forward to sharing the results of the research with you in a few months time, however the findings are only as valuable as the data they draw upon and to that end, I would appreciate your help.
If you are a Church of England minister and you receive an email from the Research and Statistics team inviting you to complete this survey, may I encourage you to spare half an hour of your time to participate in the research.
Secondly, we still have a few spaces left on the clergy coaching groups. Open to all parochial clergy in Southwark, Newcastle and Ely dioceses these groups are meeting for six, monthly sessions commencing towards the end of September. Led by experienced facilitators each course will draw upon Murray Bowen’s systems theory, which offers a framework for thinking about congregational relationships as reflective of all human relationships and Jesus as an example of individual behaviour. This is a really wonderful opportunity and to find out more please email me at Kissellk@roehampton.ac.uk letting me know which group you would be interested in.
If you have any questions regarding this study, please contact me:
Counselling Psychology Doctorate Student
Department of Psychology
London SW15 4JD
Kathryn is currently a trainee Counselling Psychologist who has worked in the NHS, mental health charity and pastoral care settings. Kathryn is married to a Jon, a Church of England vicar and her research, exploring the influence of pastoral role and relationship on the well-being of clergy, stems from a her experiences of church leadership over the past 15 years. They have two children, Zach and Sofia.
[iii] Church of England Research and Statistics (2016). Ministry Statistics 2012-2015. Retrieved from https://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/facts-stats/research-statistics/ministry-statistics.aspx
[iv] Berry, A., Francis, L J., Rolph, J. & Rolph. P. (2012). Ministry and Stress: Listening to Anglican Clergy in Wales. Pastoral Psychology, 61, 165-178.
[v] Charlton, R., Rolph, J., Francis, L. J., Rolph, P., & Robbins, M. (2009). Clergy work-related psychological health: listening to ministers of word and sacrament within the United Reformed Church in the England. Pastoral Psychology, 58, 133–149.
[vi] Ling, T. (2016, May). Experiencing Ministry. Paper presented at the Faith in Research conference, Birmingham, England.
[vii] Proeschold-Bell, R. J., Eisenberg, A., Adams, C., Smith, B., Legrand, S. and Wilk, A. (2015). The Glory of God is a human being fully alive: Predictors of positive versus negative mental health among clergy. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 54, 702–721.