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CW86: Accepted and Loved: A Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing

The Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing was made an Act of Synod by the General Synod of the Church of England in February 2020. This has followed many conversations over the past few years about the wellbeing of clergy in relation to the particular strains and stresses of ministry. An Act of Synod is designed to create mutual accountability and commitment across the Church and requires each Diocese to adopt the Covenant for itself.

The Covenant sets out some clear overall goals:
• A shift of emphasis towards preventing problems rather than solving them.
• As shift towards mutual responsibility and partnerships between individual clergy, their local church and
the diocese.
• A shift towards a co-ordinated response that takes note of the needs of clergy from ministerial
discernment through to retirement and beyond.
• A change of culture in which the church shows greater concern for the health and wellbeing of its
ordained ministers.
• The Covenant seeks to be realistic and achievable offering proposals that are practical, pragmatic and
useful.

The hope is that a ‘Big Conversation’ will now ensue, a wide-ranging dialogue across the Church at every level. To facilitate this, various resources are provided that include four areas for reflection. Each area is addressed separately to clergy, congregations, and to bishops and the wider diocese, with suggestions for consideration and open questions to stimulate thinking and conversation.
• Reflecting on Baptismal and Ministerial calling
• Reflecting on looking after yourself and others
• Reflecting on being a public figure
• Reflecting on you and your household

The Covenant avoids issuing a comprehensive set of proposals but does include a small number of recommendations, which are that:
• Non-managerial Pastoral Supervision should become the norm for clergy.
• Through training and formation, good practice should be embedded in the life of ordinands and the
newly ordained.
• Parish Profiles and Role Descriptions should include comments from the local congregation and the
bishop about clergy care and wellbeing.
• Resources should be provided for use at Licensing and Induction services to highlight the commitment of
bishops and people to the wellbeing of the ordained minister.
• Further thought should be given to how Ministerial Reviews might take seriously attention to the
wellbeing of clergy.

The Covenant includes an excellent theological essay by Dr Margaret Whipp who identifies some of the complexities and paradoxes that make the whole area of wellbeing both entirely foundational and yet frustratingly illusive. Whipp recognises the tension in addressing matters of wellbeing at a time when clergy conduct is increasingly under scrutiny, suggesting these are two sides of the same vocational coin.

She acknowledges the place of sacrifice at the heart of ministry but identifies the pitfalls when this is given excessive emphasis. She explores the biblical theme of covenant and reflects on questions of identity.

Perhaps most powerfully Whipp challenges clergy (and indeed all Christians) to move from ‘unhealthy drivenness’ toward ‘the redemptive dynamics of grace’. Instead of striving to achieve, be productive and succeed in order that we might feel accepted and loved, she suggests that a healthy culture for wellbeing, understood through the lens of faith, is one in which our starting point is knowing that we are accepted and
loved, out of which can flow the fulfilment of our responsibilities and our achievements.

Ultimately, the Covenant recognises that the wellbeing of clergy is very much bound up with the flourishing of all God’s people. The aim is to promote a culture in which all Christian disciples, through mutual care and personal responsibility, model a way of being that expresses something of what it means to have ‘life in all its fullness’.

Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, Bishop of Loughborough
Diocese of Leicester
bishop.loughborough@leicestercofe.org
@Guli_FD

This article first appeared in Country Way 86: Mental Health & Wellbeing, February 2021

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