UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Sidebar: Responding to clergy burnout

By Denise Davy


Being asked to say grace when you’re out having a leisurely lunch is hardly a monumental job. But these types of small requests can constantly remind clergy that they are never truly away from their work.

“What happens in the ministry is that you live it 24 hours a day,” says Rev. Andrew Irvine, founder of the Toronto-based Centre for Clergy Care and Congregational Health.

That 24-7 aspect of being a minister is a key reason why the rates of depression are so high among clergy members. According to Irvine’s 2004 survey of clergy from six major Protestant denominations in Ontario, including the United Church, ministers were twice as likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression as the average Canadian, and more than half suffered from stress-related physical health problems.

The majority — 83 percent — saw ministry as a calling, but in practice, 91 percent said it felt more like a job.

The survey cited loneliness as a common problem, which comes as no surprise to Irvine. He watched his father, who was a minister, struggle with burnout. Seeing what his dad went through helped Irvine feel better prepared when he became a Presbyterian minister himself in the 1980s. But he says he hadn’t realized how widespread depression was among other clergy.

Rev. Andrew Irvine. Photo courtesy of Andrew Irvine
Rev. Andrew Irvine. Photo courtesy of Andrew Irvine

In 2006, Irvine launched the Centre for Clergy Care at Emmanuel College and Knox College (United Church and Presbyterian colleges, respectively, at the University of Toronto) to support the well-being of clergy. The centre offers retreats and workshops for ministers at different stages of their careers.

Many in the survey confessed they were often reluctant to reach out for help for fear of looking weak. Indeed, 80 percent said they felt guilty if people saw them taking time off.

Irvine believes recovery starts with moving past the old-school attitude that stress is all part of the job. “It’s a process of breaking down our own inner perspective of who we are and recognizing that to experience periods of loneliness and isolation and depression is not unique but very common because of the nature of the job.”

The United Church of Canada has been paying close attention to the well-being of ministry personnel for more than a decade. It’s currently introducing a program called United Fresh Start, designed to build stronger pastoral relationships between ministers and the congregation as a whole.

Rev. Alan Hall, the United Church’s executive officer for ministry and employment, says many workplace tools for addressing stress are not applicable to ministry personnel, who often work in isolation from colleagues. 

The United Fresh Start curriculum, which was adapted from a program developed by the Episcopal Church in the United States, includes more than 20 modules teaching various strategies for ministers and congregational leaders to work together effectively. Hall says Presbyteries in southern Alberta have been piloting the program with “very positive results” and that training is now being rolled out for interested Conferences.



Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Faith

Chris Pratt's church, while claiming to accept everyone, states in its doctrine of faith that marriage should only be between one man and one woman. (Photo: Chris Pratt/Instagram)

Celebrity megachurches need to clarify LGBTQ acceptance: pastor

by Emma Prestwich

Zoe Church, where actor Chris Pratt worships, may not truly "open their doors" to everyone, like he claims.

Promotional Image

Editorials

The United Church Observer's editor and publisher, Jocelyn Bell. (Photo: Lindsay Palmer)

'The Observer' will soon relaunch with a new name and design

by Jocelyn Bell

Our magazine will be going through some changes, but we see blue skies ahead

Promotional Image

Video

Meet beloved church cats Mable and Mouse

by Observer Staff

They're a fixture of Kirk United Church Centre in Edmonton.

Promotional Image

Society

February 2019

Marriage problems: Is the ancient tradition worth saving?

by Pieta Woolley

Bitterness and boredom seem to define many mid-life marriages, but we might not have to settle for apathy ever after

Ethics

February 2019

A Yukon artist and a Tlingit trapper create this stunning jewelry

by Amy van den Berg

The fur jewelry in Whitehorse boutique store V. Ægirsdóttir is creating a new possibility for future partnerships with the region's trappers

Columns

February 2019

Why white people need to stop asking, 'where are you from?'

by Mike Sholars

"...For all intents and purposes, Canada is the only home I really recognize or remember. But none of that matters if I look like I don’t belong, and that single question makes that abundantly clear every single time."

Promotional Image