Being the parish priest of the parish has been my stressful job, says Justin Welby

Justin Welby, head of the Church of England, said the most stressful work he has done, as a priest of the parish, and the clergy need to be better supported.

Speaking at the C of E the decision-making body, the synod, in a debate on the clergy of well-being, the archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the “stresses and challenges” of being a priest.

“The hardest work I’ve ever done, and most stressful, was also a priest of the parish – mainly because it has been isolated, insatiably demanding and I have been on the whole work without close colleagues – and that brings people down,” he said.

Clergy in London and Manchester, in the context of the terrorist attacks, would have mental health problems as a result, ” he said. They had experienced “tremendous stress, which will have consequences over the next few years, a result of what they have had to go through”.

The parish churches have been at the centre of the community response to traumatic events of this year, and Welby is known to be concerned about the impact on the priests, the emergency services and others who have had to deal with violence, grief and loss in the course of their work.

But, he added, there were other “fields mines which border our path.” The backup is a major concern for members of the clergy, ” he said. “What could happen and what people might be accused of can be a huge worry and concern.”

Interior of the church disciplinary measures often contributed negatively to the well-being of priests. “The process has been the punishment, and not the result,” said Welby.

A report of the synod on the clergy of well-being called “the use of the CDM [clergy disciplinary measure] relatively minor complaints and as a potential vector of bullying.”

Introducing the debate, Simon Butler, a curate in Battersea, said the expectations of the parishioners “to put us on a pedestal only to be pleased hit us again, treating us like amateurs in a world of professionals, expecting a perfection in us, which hides a great hypocrisy in others”.

The priests have “insecurities and immaturities, too, that we often hide behind the role in which we live,” he added.

Stephen Cottrell, bishop of Chelmsford, has said that his work has often been a lonely one. “Sometimes [being a bishop] may be very heavy to carry, and sometimes it can feel like you wear it on your own … it can sometimes be a lonely role.”

Yvonne Warren, a psychotherapist in the city of Coventry, said the decrease in the number of members of the clergy meant the priests in rural areas were sometimes responsible for up to 10 churches. “In my work as a therapist, I’m finding many members of the clergy are burned, many suffer from mental health problems, and families who are out of breath,” she said.

The debate on the clergy of well-being, has attracted the attention uneven support for members of the clergy who feel isolated and overworked, and asked synod to consider ways to better support them.