Last week I was quoted in The Church Times in an article about training for ministry in the Church of England, and what barriers still exist for women. So it was great to read just this week, of new guidance and resources from the Church of England for dioceses around ‘family friendly policies’. I was asked for a quote for Church Times this week but hadn’t had time to read through everything so it was a brief one! However I’ve now had time to read through in a bit more detail so here’s some thoughts…
Firstly, if you are clergy/in training/exploring vocation and are a parent/about to become one/ or might in the future, I suggest reading the guidance through in full. It includes your legal rights as well as guidance on how each diocese can support clergy parents well, so it could be useful to quote to your Bishops/HR if you are facing any difficulties.
The guidance begins by noting:
Those called to public ministry are also called to other vocations. These enrich ordained ministry. There are times when clergy and ordinands are likely to need additional support if their family life and, as a consequence, their ministry is to flourish.
It also notes that when it refers to ‘dependants’ that their definition includes: disabled or sick spouses and elderly relatives, as well as children, which is really encouraging.
I was also pleased to see this recognition of the impact on younger female clergy or those exploring ordination:
Younger clergy – especially women clergy – are an under-represented group at present. Evidence suggests they may be more likely to consider the possibility of a call to ordained ministry if there is guidance in place that visibly demonstrates that they will be supported if they become parents. It is recommended that the commitment of the senior leadership in the diocese to proper pastoral support for clergy and ordinands who become parents is made clear by having a policy including the policy on the diocesan website that is accessible to clergy, parishioners, and prospective ordinands
If you’ve not got time to read through it all, then the guidance is divided into sections as follows:
Guidance for those about to become parents (this is a particularly helpful section)
One thing I’m really pleased to see included in the guidance, is information for ordinands and TEIs (Theological Education Institutions) around maternity leave/pay. As I noted in my book it’s an area where many fall through the gap of maternity provision because training isn’t classed as employment, and if you’re not ordained into your title post you equally aren’t eligible. As a significant number of women take a break from training or delay ordination due to pregnancy or birth of a child, this could make a real difference. The guidance suggests that discretionary means-tested maintenance grants paid to those studying full time at a TEI should continue to be paid during any period of maternity or adoption related absence for up to one year to enable them to resume their studies; and that accommodation should continue to be provided during that period.
If someone is not be able to take up a title post at the end of training for reasons of pregnancy or adoption, but is committed to or is seeking a title post, it is recommended that dioceses should consider paying a maintenance grant for up to a year as if the ordinand were still in training…
If all dioceses follow this guidance it could have a hugely positive impact on those facing maternity while training or approaching ordination.
There’s always a but isn’t there!? Whilst this is all definitely a BIG step in the right direction and I am really pleased to see it, it is still only guidance. Apart from legal obligations there is no onus on any diocese to follow it all. As I noted in The CT this week:
There [is] a huge lack of consistency from diocese to diocese, and from college to college. While some dioceses [are] working imaginatively to back younger women candidates, others [have] still not even appointed a dean of women’s ministry.
This is the situation we already find ourselves in that some dioceses are excellent at supporting parents and particularly mums in ministry, but others are not at all, and I’ve heard plenty of horror stories. I’d really like to see things like women’s ministry advisors/deans being a key role in every diocese and a central role at Ministry Division covering these sort of questions, sharing examples of best practice and ensuring greater consistency. There are some dioceses doing great things and really looking at the details of how they best support new parents, and I’d love to see some sort of forum where these ideas are shared and put out there.
If I’m being really picky I’d also like to see a slightly more pastoral tone to the guidance. A lot of the wording is around investment in clergy and whilst this is a genuine consideration and good to note – we do need to invest in our clergy – it is a bit mercenary in tone, in places! For example:
Discussions about support for clergy and ordinands who become parents tend to focus on the potential additional costs. It is important to see this support as an investment and bear in mind the wider context.
How someone is treated by the Church at a potentially stressful period of their lives is likely to have a substantial impact on how they regard the diocese and the wider Church for the rest of their ministry. A timely investment could well pay dividends later, whereas a reluctance to provide support at the right time might damage or derail a potentially fruitful long-term ministry.
We are after all an institution based on the love of God, so it would be nice to see that reflected a bit more (but that’s a general thing for stuff that comes out of the CofE I find!).
One thing I suggest we can all do is to contact our senior leadership teams in whatever diocese we find ourselves, and highlight this new guidance to them – they’ll all have received it of course but some gentle nudging from a few clergy might make all the difference as to how it’s received!