Saturday, August 12, 2006

What General Convention Did: Clergy and Clergy Family Health

Once again, I want to review the actions of the 75th General Convention related to health care. Two of the actions taken at the General Convention in Columbus that related to health and health care arguably should be of very personal concern. That is because they relate to the health of clergy and of their families. Specifically, these were passage of Resolutions D033 and B001.

The text of Resolution D033 reads as follows:

Resolved, That the 75th General Convention commend CREDO Institute, Inc. for Episcopal Clergy Wellness: A Report to The Church on the State of Clergy Wellness and affirms the recommendations contained therein; and be it further
Resolved, That CREDO Institute, Inc. be encouraged to work collaboratively with other offices, agencies, and organizations to address the recommendations in a systemic and strategic manner in order to strengthen the ordained leadership of this Church, and that a report on the progress be made to the 76th General Convention.

I would encourage everyone to review Episcopal Clergy Wellness: A Report to The Church on the State of Clergy Wellness, available to download here. The CREDO Institute has been offering programs for clergy wellness and vocational exploration. They’re best known for the CREDO Conferences, opportunities for clerics to get away for eight days with others at roughly the same stage of their careers, for spiritual renewal and vocational reflection.

On a similar theme is Resolution B001. It’s worth noting that this resolution was submitted by Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of Nevada and Presiding Bishop-elect.

Resolved, That the 75th General Convention recognize the urgent need for an ongoing program devoted to the wellness of families of clergy and clergy; and be it further
Resolved, That the 75th General Convention commend the Families of Clergy United in Support (FOCUS) for its creation of a resource guide to assist the wellness of families of clergy and clergy; and be it further
Resolved, That the 75th General Convention empower FOCUS to lead dioceses and congregations in the use of this resource guide through publicity, consultation, and seed money to promote the health of families of clergy, clergy and congregations; and be it further
Resolved, That the 75th General Convention ask the Office of Ministry Development to provide oversight and coordination with FOCUS and other programs that support the well-being of clergy and clergy families, and assist in seeking funding for such programs, including for Families of Clergy United in Support; and be it further
Resolved, That the 75th General Convention request that the Joint Standing Committee of Program, Budget and Finance consider a budget allocation of $97,000 per year for the implementation of this resolution.

You can learn about Families of Clergy United in Support (FOCUS) here. I note as important that the resolution included delegation to a specific office (the Office of Ministry Development) and designation of funds for the program.

You can see why I would suggest that this has a personal interest for me. Certainly, I appreciate folks being concerned about my health. Intellectually I know that I can’t take care of anyone else if I don’t take enough care of myself. Viscerally I’m as likely as anyone else to push myself too far when I’m working, and not far enough when I’m not. As a hospital chaplain being called out of a sound sleep to a bedside is just part of the job, as is the sixteen hour day, or the seven day week. (I told someone yesterday I couldn’t straighten out whether my week went Monday through Sunday, or Sunday through Saturday; and in that indeterminacy my week never seemed to actually have an end.) That’s not really exceptional among clergy, although I may be called out at night more. It’s easy to think about the discipline of Morning Prayer; it’s not as easy, nor near as much fun sometimes, to thing about the discipline of morning exercise. The fact that someone would care – more to the point, that the Church I serve would care – about my health and my lifestyle is no little reassuring.

And with that, I’m even more pleased that someone is interested in my family and their health. I want to be a good husband, and wanted when my children were still at home to be a good father. (Yeah, yeah, I know that doesn’t end, either; but they’re taking responsibility for themselves these days, and it isn’t the same.) But I know that in the community I serve there are some who will project expectations of me onto my wife. My wife, bless her, is really pretty good at setting limits and not getting set up with expectations not appropriate for her. But, not all my colleagues are as blessed as I am; more to the point, not all of their spouses are as capable as mine is. And for all the changes that the world and the Church have seen, there are still a lot of folks with very traditional expectations of clergy and families. There are stresses on families of clergy based on our visibility and centrality in the Church community and the larger community. A commitment on the part of the Episcopal Church to the families of clergy will, I think, contribute to a healthier Church.

And that is no small thing. I have often reminded colleagues that clergy are not normative Christians. The normative Christian is a lay person. Rather, the cleric is called forth in the community to provide leadership in the faith and worship of the Church. A good part of the leadership can be provided by modeling, demonstrating in our own lives how the faith might be lived well. Certainly, that is in keeping with our incarnational theology. So, how we live our lives, both professional and personal, will be seen and noted as lay Christians consider how to live theirs. It is very important that we model good, healthy lifestyles, and good, healthy relationships. It is important that we are caring for ourselves and for our families in ways that honor the love Christ has shown for us and has called for us to show for one another.

Some of the blogs I read frequently are written by seminarians. Every now and again they put up with a comment from me that I hope will be helpful and supportive for them. Certainly, I hope they will begin good professional and personal practices in their ministries, and will maintain them throughout their careers. The interest expressed by General Convention in supporting them, and us more seasoned professional siblings, is hopeful and helpful. They are indeed confirmation of the theme of the General Convention, a call to all of us, clergy included, to “Come and Grow.”

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