Time to be ‘realistic’ about what clergy can do in a parish

Time to be ‘realistic’ about what clergy can do in a parish Fr Martin Magill

Parishioners need to be helped realise the strains clergy of all denominations face, a prominent Belfast priest has said.

Speaking to The Irish Catholic ahead of a conference in Lisburn next month on ‘Pastoring the Pastor’, Fr Martin McGill said it’s vital to let people understand the challenges today’s clergy face.

“We need to raise awareness of it,” he said, “and to get people thinking that circumstances have changed, clergy are obviously getting older, we’re not going to be able to do the things we did in the past, and how do we do this in a way that will enable clergy to be able to be happy and fulfilled in their vocation?”

Over the last two years Fr McGill has worked with Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian clergy to discuss the issue of care for clergy, meeting with them on a roughly monthly basis, with the four clerics being struck by how similar the challenges facing them are regardless of denominations.

“It doesn’t matter what the denomination, there are common issues right across,” he said. “The likes of stress on clergy, the likes of the amount of governance that we’re expected to be involved in, administration, also the sense for some of us of falling congregations and trying to keep things going as they were, to maintain what was there, the stress of getting older, and for some of us declining numbers of clergy as well.”

At times, he said, the expectations placed on clergy have been excessive and he said it’s important to be “realistic” about what should be expected of them.

These issues, he said, have probably been around for a long time but have especially come to the fore of late due to declining congregations and aging clergy.

“I would suggest that while in some ways it’s always been necessary, in the past number of years it’s become more and more necessary,” he said, pointing to how in the past the load would have been better shared. Sometimes there can be a run of funerals and clergy can end up with three or four funerals a week when there’s just the parish priest and that’s hugely demanding,” he said, saying that the priority is to raise awareness.