Investigating how to improve clergy morale, effective ministry and parishioner participation in the most deprived areas of Sheffield Diocese.
The challenges faced by today’s clergy
The Church of England has faced declining church attendance and clergy numbers. This has led to remaining clergy having to often manage across several sites with reduced volunteer help. The Church of England approached Conway and Clinton with concerns that clergy callings and quality of lives were being undermined by increasing administrative demands due to reduced clergy numbers and pressures to reverse dwindling congregations.
Sheffield was identified on the basis of it being a majorly socially deprived area as measured by the Government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation. Over three-quarters of Sheffield Diocese’s parishes have an Index of Multiple Deprivation lower than the national average, and many much lower; within these the most deprived parishes were targeted for Mission Partnership Development Workers. In such parishes clergy face regular issues relating to poverty, homelessness and drug abuse.
Positive impact and benefitting the wider community
Research by Professor Conway at Royal Holloway and Dr Clinton at King’s College London investigated how clergy allocated time to tasks that make up their role, and the impact of different tasks on their calling, quality of life, and effective ministry such as encouraging parishioner attendance and participation, and parish performance such as fund raising and income generation.
Research findings led the Sheffield Diocese to introduce a new administrative support role creating jobs for nine ‘Mission Partnerships Development Workers’ to support 30 clergy across 33 parishes. Conway and Clinton’s evaluation of the scheme and their recommendations enhanced organizational knowledge and, along with external independent reports, found that the support workers benefitted clergy by enhancing their quality of life and mission-related activities, and benefitted parishes through improved church performance and parishioner participation.
Clergy reported positive impacts including benefitting the wider community via novel events and services, and releasing clergy time to train lay leaders, volunteers, and church wardens. Findings also reported on new activities organised in the community by Development Workers. For example, at one of the most deprived parishes in the country, the setting up of a parish nursing service programme that reaches out to people who otherwise could not or would not contact GP services. The scheme takes nursing to the community, addressing a wide range of mental health and physical health issues.