Church of Ireland Launches Clergy Assistance Programme

The Church of Ireland has announced a Clergy Assistance Programme to help to improve mental health among leaders in ordained ministry. It will be provided by Health Assured, the UK and Ireland’s largest independent provider of programmes of this type, as part of the Church’s mental health promotion project, MindMatters COI. The programme was announced on Thursday, 5th May 2022 by Bishop Pat Storey, who chairs the initiative, at the 2022 General Synod meeting in Belfast.

Bishop Storey remarks: “For those who lead and pastor us, it is vital that there are enough resources to keep them healthy and well. It is to this end that the MindMatters project launches its Clergy Assistance Programme for church leaders, focussing on good mental health and well-being. It is hoped that, in response to the MindMatters survey, clergy will feel more adequately supported.

“As with many professions, clergy too have felt isolated and powerless throughout the pandemic – many feel that their very raison d’être was removed. The Clergy Assistance Programme seeks to give clergy a place and a space to explore their own well-being and is intended to supplement and not to usurp the pastoral care of a diocesan bishop. We hope that this will be a successful contribution to better support and care for those who watch over us.”

Church of Ireland Launches Clergy Assistance Programme
A Clergy Assistance Programme was launched at the Church of Ireland 2022 General Synod meeting in Belfast

This service will be available free-of-charge to all Church of Ireland clergy for three years thanks to generous financial support from the Benefact Trust (previously known as Allchurches Trust). Key features will include:

  • telephone helplines – available 24 hours a day and seven days a week – offering practical information and emotional support;
  • a medical information helpline – available on weekdays, between 9am and 5pm;
  • up to six face-to-face counselling sessions, per issue, per member of the clergy, including with applied cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques;
  • up to six structured telephone counselling sessions, per issue, for a member of the clergy, or their spouse, and dependents (aged between 16-24 and in full-time education);
  • crisis management and critical incident support;
  • an online health and wellbeing portal at www.healthassuredeap.com; and
  • a monthly well-being newsletter.

The Clergy Assistance Programme has been put together in response to surveys of Church of Ireland clergy and lay members in May-June 2021, which were commissioned by the Church to document understandings of and attitudes towards mental health. In responses to the clergy survey, 28% of clergy disagreed (and 18% strongly disagreed) with the statement that the Church of Ireland provided them with good support for their own mental health; by comparison, 20% agreed and 1% strongly agreed.

MindMatters COI is a three-year project to raise awareness of, and respond to the mental health needs of communities across our island, and was launched in October 2020.

Church of Ireland Launches Clergy Assistance Programme

Further initiatives from MindMattersCOI – Dioceses and parishes are currently being invited to submit applications for seed funding for local mental health promotion initiatives to address one of the following four themes emerging from the project’s research –

  • Stigma – there is a significant level of stigma in relation to mental health issues;
  • Connections – connections play an important role in positive mental health;
  • Supporting clergy to support others – clergy may benefit from additional training to support parishioners experiencing mental health issues and can feel unsupported in relation to their own mental health; and
  • Faith as a support for mental health – as faith and prayer are important to the mental health of members of the Church.

Mental health training is being rolled out to clergy and pastoral carers, free-of-charge and delivered online by Action Mental Health. The training lasts no longer than two hours and provides the participants with a broad overview of mental health, identifies the most common mental health conditions, teaches the participants how to sustain good mental health and emotional well-being, and provides them with relevant resources available in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The Church is also seeking to recruit mental health champions/advocates as part of the project, who will help promote positive mental health in the Church of Ireland and in communities across the island of Ireland. The plan is to match champions’ skills, interests and time availability to the countless opportunities that exist to promote positive mental health in the Church of Ireland and the wider community. Anyone can be a mental health champion, whether they have personal or professional experience in the area of mental health or not.

If you have a query or would like to express your interest in training or becoming a mental health champion, please email the project team at mhp@rcbdub.org or fill out the contact form on the home page of its website: https://mindmatters.ireland.anglican.org