8 December 2023

Healthier clergy, families, churches because of five-day working week: Leaders

Churches with five-day week working models are seeing good health benefits in their clergy. Picture: iStock.

Jenan Taylor

15 November 2023

Anglican leaders in NSW believe their full-time clergy have better mental, spiritual, emotional and physical health because of their five-day working week model.

Bathurst and Newcastle dioceses, and Norwest Anglican parish in the Diocese of Sydney say their  full-time ministers are able to focus more of their free time on family life and personal recreation under the shorter working weeks.

The leaders believed the approach was helping to foster healthier work practises and resilience among the staff.

It comes after delegates at the 2023 Melbourne Synod endorsed a motion calling for a review of clergy working hours.

Bathurst Bishop Mark Calder said his diocese introduced a five-day model at the start of 2023 because it was concerned primarily about the welfare of its younger clergy who were just starting their careers, especially those with families.

Bishop Calder said Bathurst had many new, young clergy with families, and that six days was unsustainable for those families.

He said the diocese had questioned the usefulness of there being one day for clergy to get full rest, do chores and spend quality time with their children.

“How is that meant to work and function in real life, and be good for family values. We just felt six days was unrealistic, and that we needed to take the pressure off them,” Bishop Calder said.

He said he hadn’t done a survey around responses yet but believed that people could see the benefit of the model.

Read more: ‘Review case for five-day week for clergy’: Synod motion

Bishop Calder believed clergy were better able to take their children to sports, focus on chores and decide how best to navigate their working hours.

He said he was confident they were reaping better mental and physical health than they might otherwise have working six days a week.

Norwest Anglican senior minister the Reverend Pete Stedman said his parish moved to a five-day model for clergy 13 years ago.

He said when he’d started at Norwest there were young families, and he wanted husbands to feel they could spend time with their wives, and dads to be able to spend time with their children.

“We realised that people serve well if their home and familial relationships are stable and healthy,” Mr Stedman said.

He said five ministers worked 50 to 55 hours across a five-day week ministering to a congregation of about 1000 people, and he wanted them to be able to rest really well on their two days off.

Mr Stedman said he believed it helped their ministry be sustainable, and that in particular it helped them to foster and maintain healthy relationships.

He said it was often easy for ministers to end up with families who were disengaged from what they did. Spouses could become disinterested in what their partner did and children could become resistant to their parent, and toward the Church and the gospel.

“I didn’t want my kids growing up with a memory that dad was never here and was always at church. Now my four kids are at church all the time with me, they love being here,” Mr Stedman said.  “They’ve had the sense that I was able to be there for the family as required, but also sacrificially at church as I needed to, and as I want to do as well.”

Read more: Unaddressed burnout, heavy workloads amid ordination shortage

The Diocese of Newcastle said its decision to change to a five-day approach, based on 40 hours of ministry, was motivated by a focus on the wellbeing of clergy.

A spokesperson said the new model had not affected the stipend rates of the full-time ministers, and was strongly supported by clergy and laity.

She said since its introduction clergy reported getting better at taking time off, and many had spoken about taking care of elderly parents and children and focusing on physical exercise and other recreation during that time.

In Newcastle’s experience appropriate work-life balance accompanied with appropriate self-care was yielding staff who were more reflective, grounded and resilient, the spokesperson said.

Bishop Calder said it was early days yet for the model in Bathurst, but he hoped those working conditions would help the diocese retain, and attract, clergy.

There was no impact on what full-time clergy were paid, but the biggest challenge was how part-time workers negotiated things, Bishop Calder said.

He said the diocese left part-time clergy to negotiate their pay terms with their parish. For some parishes that would have little effect, for others it would have a much bigger impact.

Bishop Calder said he suspected that even though some clergy would not necessarily do less work just because they worked under a five-day model, they would begin to learn how to work better with their time.

Faith Workers Alliance executive officer the Reverend Chris Bedding said there was an increasing number of conversations among Anglican dioceses, including Perth and Brisbane, about moving to a five-day model.

Read more: Review report requested, Anglican Communion motion withdrawn as synod begins | Melbourne Synod day 1

Mr Bedding said he believed it was motivated by increased awareness of burn out and a better understanding of its impact in communities and on individuals.

A recent clinical psychology study found that the top three reasons Australian ministers considered quitting was job stress, loneliness and that their families were suffering.

Mr Stedman said 50 to 55 hours a week worked for ministers at Norwest Anglican, and was what was needed to do the job there with its large congregation.

He said the clergy were high performing, and he made sure they were healthy in every way, and that the church was not being irresponsible with what it was expecting them to do.

The Reverend Luke Whiteside who seconded the motion at the Melbourne Synod 2023 said there was an incredible privilege in ministry of service.

“But the Anglican Church as a whole needs to do the work of addressing some of the theological concerns of working in a new regulatory system, and look at how that may or may not create helpful, gospel shaped patterns of work and engagement,” Reverend Whiteside said.

This article was updated on 22 November to reflect that a line incorrectly stating that a Professional Development of Clergy Working Group was created to address the motion calling for a review of clergy working hours, was removed.

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