From time to time I’m sure we’ve all felt we didn’t want to be doing what we were doing, whether that was looking after children, being in a church service or going to work. We all have the times the we feel we’d rather be at the beach, or doing something entirely different. I certainly admit to that on occasional Sunday mornings over the years.
There’s a story of someone saying to their spouse ‘I don’t want to go to church this morning’ and the response comes back ‘You have to. You’re the Vicar!!!’ I can clearly remember the Sunday when I felt I don’t what to be here. Not just as a preference and I’d like to be somewhere else more enjoyable, but I’d rather be anywhere else than here. It happened one Sunday and happened regularly over a period of months before I had my breakdown. There were occasions when I felt like walking out of the back door of the church during a service!
What does a vicar do when they feel like that? You can’t be totally open and tell everyone! I told a very few close friends, some of whom have no connection with St Paul’s. Most were very understanding, supportive and helpful. But I was also told to man up and get over it as we all feel like that at times.
The reality is that most people in our church community never knew what was going on inside me. I still led services and preached. I still celebrated communion. I still was a part of our Open The Book team each week and took services in the community. I still took our Remembrance, Christingle, Christmas and other big services as usual. I was still a governor at two local schools. etc. etc.
There were one or two however who did notice – thank you so much, it really means a lot to me that you knew and you cared.
What would I say to other church leaders who experience the feeling that they’d rather be anywhere else than leading their church service? Get help now. Don’t wait. I waited far too long.
The difficulty is it’s very difficult to get help in the midst of ministry. What I needed was a break and professional counselling but that was only available after I was signed off work due to stress!
Why and I writing about this? I hope it will help in three ways. Firstly I hope it will be cathartic to me personally. As an introvert I don’t often share or show what is going on within me. I hope by sharing It will help me. Secondly I hope it may help others locally who are themselves experiencing stress and depression. When you experience it you suddenly start to recognise and understand better what others may be going through. Some may find it helpful to know they’re not on their own. Thirdly I hope it may help some colleagues, as ministers we often don’t share our weaknesses. To know that someone else is experiencing stress and depression in ministry my be helpful.
At the end of May last year I went to see my GP. I was shocked that he signed me off for a month due to work related stress, depression and anxiety. I simply wasn’t expecting that as I didn’t think I was that bad. Looking back I was experiencing a breakdown and I really, really needed that time out. I ended being off for 6 months with the added addition of a cancer scare that was eventually found to be benign.
What happened to lead me to my breakdown? Early on I looked back over the past 5 years and recognised that I had been on a downward spiral for a period of years. I had experienced a number of stressful church issues over these years. Each on their own was difficult but not insurmountable but together they mounted up. Over those years I also experienced a number of stresses that many families face. The cumulative effect on my mental health was entirely different, and to me, unexpected.
Reflecting back I think the most difficult thing was the inability to share openly and the loneliness of leadership. Because of confidentiality and safeguarding there are things that a minister simply cannot share with others within the local church. This can often lead to misunderstanding which is difficult for ministers to handle. Others can sound off to friends and house groups etc. The minister simply cannot do this and rarely can say what is they actually feel and think. There was a sense that others can say what they like but the minister cannot defend themselves. That is possibly the most stressful area of ministry.
I’ve always thought I was fairly broad shouldered and could cope with pretty much anything without buckling. The last year has shown me how wrong I am. If only I’d noticed some of the signs earlier!
One of the biggest stress point was on the Sunday when for the first time I felt ‘I don’t want to be here!’ More on that in my next blog.
It’s ages since I last did any blogging! I hope to do a series of blog posts on my experiences with depression and stress over the past year and this is the first. More to come!
I am a vicar of a small Anglican Church. I also am in my 60s and have an underlying health condition. On top of that I am continuing to suffer from depression.
The Coronavirus is impacting me on a number of levels.
Firstly I am like anyone who is in their 60s with underlying health conditions. My depression means that I am deeply concerned about this epidemic on me personally and on my family. Will I get it, will others in my family get it? If so how badly will it hit us?
Then I am a Vicar and have responsibility both for a congregation and for a local parish. Pastorally I care about the people amongst whom I minister. With my stress and depression I am struggling with the additional decision making that is needed at the moment.
How should communion be served? Should we serve refreshments? What about our toddler group and group for those who are retired? We can’t get new supplies of hand gel. What happens if churches need to close altogether, especially if this is over Easter? How do we retain safety at our weekly cafe? With a mainly older morning congregation how can we minimise the risk of Coronavirus being passed on? What about the pastoral needs that may well arise in the coming weeks and months?
As a Christian leader I know I should, of all people, be the one preaching, sharing and living hope in this time. But for me I’ve gone from being a positive person whose glass is always at least half full to being someone whose glass is at least half empty.
I’m struggling in faith as I’m sure many others are. But that’s OK! It’s OK to have doubts and questions. For me over my life I’ve always come back to the solid rock on which I stand and his name is Jesus.
I know who holds the future
And He’ll guide me with his hand
With God things don’t just happen,
Everything by him is planned.
So as I face tomorrow,
With its problems large and small,
I’ll trust the God of miracles,
Give to Him my all.