Clergy Morale

Anne has posted about the all too palpable sense of low morale amongst the clergy which she notices at General Synod last week. She reports that she is working on a CMD handbook.

I think that it might be worth trying to think about the things which contribute to lower morale. One thing which came out very clearly at synod was a weariness of dealing with building problems that people didn’t ever feel called to sort out and have never really be trained to deal with either.

Here are a few questions that might be worth asking:

  1. Is the (disputed) assertion that stipendiary clergy are office holders rather than proper employees contributing to decline and low morale? Might offering people employment rights make them feel more secure and more valued?
  2. Are the morale issues amongst non-stipendiary clergy the same issues as amongst the stipendiary clergy? (I suspect that they are not).
  3. Does it make any difference to clergy morale when stipend is raised by less than the rate of inflation and particularly when no lay person complains about that?
  4. Why don’t we think it is worth establishing an HR department and learn best practice from other organisations? My doctor recently observed to me that if the churches did this it would probably save thousands of pounds a year and almost certainly save some people from dropping out and leaving their posts prematurely. It seemed to be his view that we were particularly poor at treating one another well at work.
  5. Where does the balance lie in our Canon Law and decision making processes between consensual decision making and visionary leadership? Is there a balanced tension between these two modes of decision making?
  6. Would clergy feel better if more lived in their own homes and had a greater number of choices to make around where they might live in retirement? (Here I speak from personal experience in that I do live in my own home and that makes me feel much more confident about remaining in church work until I retire than I felt when lived in a Rectory).
  7. Given that significant numbers of our clergy are either male, gay, female, straight or some combination of these things, might clergy morale be boosted by refraining from giving any honoured place or priviledge to anyone in the church who works to limit or restrict the ministry of others on grounds that would be seen as discriminatory (and illegal) in any other organisation?


  1. 3 and 6 weigh on me from time to time when it comes to supporting my future family. I meet lots of folks who talk about exploring their call to ministry when they have paid a good lump of the mortgage off. Average age of first time buyer is now 39!

  2. I think it’s vital to have lay people more involved with the buildings than their incumbent of the day – until we grasped this particular nettle (in a long interregnum) we were ignorant of the extent of the problems, and the buildings had suffered as a result.
    I think it iniquitous that anyone should be told where they may or may not live after retirement, and find myself ready to rush to the barricades on your last point.
    Now I’m off to write up my own take on Synod …

  3. Martin Ritchie says

    some very good questions here that could do with some sustained attention!

  4. I found that being constructively defrocked on the whim of one man who had a prejudice against people who had suffered from depression didn’t do my morale any good. The fact that not one colleague in the whole world did or said anything constructive to stop this from happening to me destroyed my faith in the church completely. The clergy would have better morale if they had more love for each other and had bigger bollocks.

  5. Another point which occurred to me is difficult congregations. Of course we are called to love them all, but sometimes there are just downright nasty people out there who really can wear you down. Another thing we weren’t taught at Tisec – how to deal with difficult congregations.

    Agree on the finance and property issues. My heart sinks when either come up.

    I remember once going to my GP many years ago to ask for help sleeping and he wanted to talk about any problems I might have. 10 minutes later he was horrified that ‘this’ could go on in the Church. “Aren’t you all meant to love one another?” he said.

  6. Revd Ross Kennedy says

    No 7 seems to suggest replacing one type of discrimination for another – i.e discriminating against those who take the teachings of the Bible too rigorously.

  7. Rosemary Hannah says

    I think it would be a huge advance for both congregations and clergy to move to an own-house situation. But I think it might take time. Well, it would. Clergy in a clergy house could not be told to get out …

    If anybody knows a sure-fire way of dealing with difficult congregations they should tell. The anguish I have seen this cause one way or another …

    I have to say, though, things can also be grim outside the church. I know somebody, a young woman, was was told that as of next year she will be on a contract where she only gets statutory maternity pay. Up to now, she has been entitled to six months on full pay. She is the principle bread winner in her family and consequently cannot afford to have a second child. She works for a firm with a high reputation and in an industry where people know each other. She feels she dare not complain outside the firm for fear of becoming unemployable.

  8. Agatha says

    I can agree that clergy have many good reasons for low morale and entirely sympathise but unfair to us lay people on number 3. Why would we complain if you get an increase less than the rate of inflation when thats what’s happening to us (if we get increases at all)?

    On a lighter note, was somewhat disappointed to see that Rev Ruth’s response did not take up the point of bigger bollocks being required for clergy!

  9. I think this is really a fascinating topic. I think of my years in congregational ministry and reflect that my morale was at its lowest when faced with a declining congregation in its death throes and another whose life was marked by unresolved and, in fact, unresolvable, conflict. That said, there was no better vocation when all was going well and congregational growth was the order of the day. For some clergy, whose egos and sense of self-importance, if I may say so, are measured in proportion to the size of the congregations, decline is always going to be an issue which relates directly to their physical and emotional well-being. Oh, and the lack of money and security can be a problem too!

  10. re:

    3 – same as thousands of other voluntary/public sector workers then? Low morale is current position across the whole economy.

    7 – given that so many members of our clergy seem to be bigots, maybe it would raise morale to increase… “the giving any honoured place or priviledge to anyone in the church who works to limit or restrict the ministry of others on grounds that would be seen as discriminatory (and illegal) in any other organisation.”

  11. Rosemary Hannah says

    Another friend working in NHS reports that everybody’s morale in her group is non existent and she has just been told she cannot have leave (her holiday) where her child-minder is on holiday. So what is she actually supposed to do?! A financial crisis seems to increase the plain nastiness of employers.

  12. FWIW, teachers now seem to be in considerably lower spirits than when I retired 6 years ago. But at least they choose where to live. Question: are there congregations that everyone regards as ‘difficult’, or merely different perceptions?

  13. Ruth has substantial bollocks. I wish the male clergy were as equally well endowed.

  14. Actually, I’m quite aware of low morale and bad pay offers in other sectors. Clergy quite often take up cudgels for others, preaching the awkward sermon in the unlikely place, writing New Statesman leaders, going on demos etc.

    Point number 3 was not about whether clergy are treated any better or any worse than teachers/lecturers/nurses/business folk at all.

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