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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Irritable Clergy Syndrome

It would appear that "their Ruth" (Gledhill, Religion Correspondent for the London Times) has finally met "our MP" (Madpriest)

I first read about this on EpiSCOPE, the new Blogsite of The Episcopal Church, but Paul Williams, a brother cleric formerly from the Diocese of Newark but now living in Zurich (I know. Poor thing.), just sent me the original article from the London Times.

Apparently, the news first broke in London in early December, 2006, but we're just now getting word of it here, across the pond.

I'm sure it won't be long before there's a new diagnosis listed in the DSM 4 (Fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).


It's called: ICS


I know. You've seen all those commercials for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) . . . not to be confused with those maddening commercials for Irritable Bladder Syndrome ("Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now.").

This is ICS: Irritable Clergy Syndrome.

Just when "Three-plus Rowan" thought he had enough irritability dealing with demanding Global South Primates and neo-Puritan evangelicals on the one hand, and an honestly gay bishop and a woman Primate on the other. . . . .now this!

What's a poor beleaguered Archbishop to do? Who could blame him for being a bit crabby with North Americans? I mean, I don't know of any clergy in The Episcopal Church with ICS, do you? ;~)

Here's my favorite quote from one of the authors, Sara Savage, a psychology and religion researcher at the University of Cambridge:

"I am reliably informed that one of the most stressful features of ministry is the effort to be nice to difficult people."

Perhaps Annie Dillard is right, but for the wrong reason. Perhaps we all should start wearing crash helmets to church.

Although, come to think of it, the same 'jingle' that applies to a syndrome involving an irritable bladder could also apply to irritable clergy . . .

From The (London) Times
December 09, 2006
Evil-minded parishioners making life hell for clergy
Congregations cowed by bullies Vicars stressed by the need to be nice

Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

Churches in Britain are a "toxic cocktail" of bullying and terror, as parish priests struggle to lead congregations dominated by neurotic worshippers who spread havoc with gossip and manipulation.

The "dark side" of parish life is detailed in a report published by the Church of England, which describes how peace and love are in desperately short supply in the pews of churches this Christmas.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is among the contributors to the report, The Future of the Parish System: Shaping the Church of England for the 21st Century.

One of the authors, Sara Savage, a psychology and religion researcher at the University of Cambridge, reports how increasing numbers of ministers are going down with a new illness, irritable clergy syndrome.

Priests are being torn by the pressure of having to be nice all the time to everyone, even when confronted with extremes of nastiness, she says.

It is worse in the suburbs, where Christians can choose between a variety of "gathered" churches, all offering different styles, from tambourines to High Mass with incense. Here, troublemakers indulge in "church hopping", moving on to the next church once they have had enough of the one they are in.

Dr Savage says that these people suffer from neurotic personality disorders bordering on the psychotic.

But even where a church has none of these in its congregation, other problems arise.

One difficulty is how to motivate the "settled blancmange" of the softly acquiescent majority, described by Dr Savage as "social loafers". "Bums on pews are often just that," she reports.

Dr Savage says one of the problems is that churches are hierarchical systems, with all the attendant echoes of feudal society. Thus they elicit bad behaviour such as status seeking, fawning, bullying, passivity, blaming others and gossiping.

Clergy soften the impact of this, while at the same time preserving it, by being "nice", she says. "The norm of Christian niceness is ubiquitous, despite the portrait the Gospels paint of Jesus as an assertive, sometimes acerbic personality who readily confronted people in order to pursue their spiritual welfare."

She agrees that nastiness is unproductive, but argues that niceness "can tie churches up in knots". Because lay volunteers, such as churchwardens or vergers, are unpaid, they do not expect to be confronted by their "nice" vicar over the way they fulfil their role.

"Clergy desperately need their lay workers and volunteers, of whom there is a limited supply. Organists know this," she writes. "I am reliably informed that one of the most stressful features of ministry is the effort to be nice to difficult people."

The report comes as the Church of England is in the process of looking at new ways of "doing church". Two years ago Dr Williams called for an overhaul of the traditional parish system to meet the needs of modern society.


Bill said...

One solution may be truth. I know that truth is not usually used in social situations, but consider the benefits. The person knows exactly where he stands. There is no guessing. If a person is behaving like an idiot, he desperately needs to be told this. To do anything else would not be a kindness. This gives the person an opportunity to mend his ways. Calling a “spade a spade” has long been overlooked in society as a means of correcting inappropriate behavior. If not told this gem of truth, the person will go on forever thinking that they are wonderful and invaluable. I learned of this approach, as a young man in the army. A sergeant would never say, “You’ve almost got it son, just try a little harder”. He was much more likely to advise you to “get your head out of you’re A_ _” This method of intercourse left no doubt that you had done something wrong and that behavior modification was in order. And remember, this avoids a common problem which is when a lie comes back to bite you. No, telling the truth up-front is a far better way of conducting business.

Dennis said...

Amazing. Where did you find this picture of MadPriest?