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Managing Clergy Lives: Obedience, Sacrifice, Intimacy by Nigel Peyton and Caroline Gatrell

March 9, 2017

MCLThis book ‘explores the commitment [of Anglican Parish Clergy]…. Affirms their positive staying power… [and how] they pay the price of lost intimacies and sacrifice their own needs and desires.’ It began life as the doctoral thesis of Nigel Peyton, who has been a Parish Priest, Archdeacon and is now Bishop of Brechin. His co-author is Senior Lecturer at the Lancaster University Management School.

The source material is 46, ‘semi-structured’ interviews of clergy from across England – differing ages, both genders, single and married.

In ch1 ‘In Search of Priesthood; Parish clergy and the Church of England; ‘Lights still burn in vicarage windows’; The ordination of women;Describing Clergy Lives;  the research sample; Clergy optimism; Faithful community pastors; Obedient Clergy Bodies’, too many pages are devoted to explaining the differences between area deans and archdeacons etc., plus the methodology used.

In chapter 3. ‘The panopticon of ordination; Promise and praxis – Life in the vicarage; Collared: visible and vulnerable; Bodies out of place? Gender and race – Reverend mother: the baby in the priestly body; Daniel: embodying race; Getting to the finishing line’ they introduce the concept of the Panopticon (i.e. that clergy live under continual scrutiny, from parishioners as well as God), with much reference to Michel Foucault. The panopticon was conceived as an especially oppressive prison in which the inmates were constantly under scrutiny, and could never escape from the vigilance of their guards, thereby intensifying the ordeal of their confinement to an almost intolerable level. This is an alarmingly strong metaphor.

The later chapters focus on the personal sacrifices clergy make, with one focusing specifically around the issue of intimacy. The concluding chapter gives the response to the question, ‘When do you feel most priestly?’

In ch. 4 ‘The Sacrificial Embrace; Sacrificial agency: governing the soul – Sacrificial Embrace: a meta-theme; Sacrificial selves; Vocational professionalism – Professional identity; Women and professional work; Gender and impression management; Clergy professionalism: cultivating virtue; Clergy accountability: ministerial review; Clergy careers: ambition, preferment and disappointment; Labour without reward – Pauline’s account; Stipends and pension worries; Housing anxieties; A household contract? Accumulative opportunity cost; Emotional labour’ Many resent the lack of privacy which comes with living in a vicarage. One was attacked as a result of wearing a dog collar. There are money worries, especially about the prospect of retirement.

In ch. 5 ‘Lost Intimacies; Personal relationships; Relationships in organisations – Church as a moral community; Organisational sexuality; Friendship; Clergy marriages – The transformation of intimacy; Married to the ministry?; Marriages at risk; Family practices – Happy families? Two clergy couples; Clergy households and work-home balance; Home alone? Secrets and sexuality – Issues and secrets: clergy sexuality; Single clergy; Gay clergy The erosion of intimacy’, they find a great deal of commitment but also evidence ‘that many clergy, married or single, struggle to enjoy private relationships uncontaminated by public ministry… a loss of intimacy, coping with varying degrees of loneliness and frustration.’ They identified very little despair or cynicism. There should have been more about LGBT clergy.

Drawing everything together is ch. 6 ‘Still priestly after all these years; The research participants: where are they now?; Holy representative: Minister of Word and Sacrament; Priest and person: belonging and believing; Finding priesthood and understanding authenticity’ and ch. 7 Prospects for priesthood; Feminization of the clergy; Designer ministries; Disestablishment and the end of the parish?; Valuing, acknowledging and reinforcing the role of clergy’


clergy record few sickness absence days each year compared with other occupational groups (Church of England 2005a), amounting to just 3.4 days in 2007, equivalent to 1.4 per cent of working days. Annual clergy turnover measured simply in terms of priests leaving the Church of England payroll is just 3 per cent compared with 11 per cent for nurses and 13 per cent for school teachers. The number of clergy early ill-health retirements, 13 per cent of all clergy retirements in 2008, is slowly reducing. However the component of mental health, stress and anxiety as the principle cause of many sickness days and early retirements remains a concern. These factors notwithstanding clergy tend to record high job satisfaction in occupational surveys

The clergy career structure offers more sideways moves than promotions, traditionally called ‘preferment’.

a key theme that is developed throughout this book, that ordination, whether regarded as imparting an abiding character or simply entrusting a leadership function, has an enduring influence over clergy lives that powerfully and permanently changes them.

The clergy interviewed almost without exception believed that their ordination had been the right thing to do and that over the years they were living out their original vocational commitment. Equally however they articulated the subtle difference between choosing and being chosen. With God there can be no going back, clergy are captives of their faith and cannot escape the consequences of their ordination.

We have to sacrifice the self in order to discover the truth about ourselves and we have to discover the truth about ourselves in order to sacrifice ourselves. Truth and sacrifice, the truth about ourselves and the sacrifice of ourselves, are deeply and closely connected.

Priestly embodiment is a work in progress, a process of embodying change. Watson and Harris developed the concept of the ’emergent manager’ as a similar becoming over time while the Bishop of Oxford describes this congruent self in theological terms: ‘When ministry is hard and people seem unresponsive … it’s a time to return to the confidence that God has called us to be here, now, and nowhere else … and, many years on, by far the majority of clergy would still say that the best decision they could ever have made was to accept God’s call to the life and work of a priest’. R. S. Thomas was right: ‘priests have a long way to go, picking their way through the parish’. Our clergy research participants were certainly sensitive to their own vocational journey and the journeys of others and appreciated the insight that priests are not only ordained in a life-changing moment but are ‘becoming priests’ across a lifetime.

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