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Church of Ireland overhauls support for clergy, offering free mental health support

by Tola Mbakwe

The Church of Ireland is tackling poor mental health within its clergy. 

It has launched a new three-year programme for all those ordained in ministry who need support for their mental well-being. 

The Clergy Assistance Programme will offer counselling sessions, a 24/7 helpline, crisis management, a medical information helpline and critical incident support, among other things.
The programme is part of the Church's mental health promotion project, MindMatters COI. It is a three-year project to raise awareness of, and respond to the mental health needs of communities in Ireland. 

Rev Pat Storey, Bishop of Meath and Kildare chairs the initiative.

She said at the 2022 General Synod meeting in Belfast: "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, focusing 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."

The service will be available free-of-charge to all Church of Ireland clergy thanks to financial support from the Benefact Trust (previously known as Allchurches Trust).

It comes after surveys of Church of Ireland clergy and lay members in May - June 2021 found 28 per cent of clergy didn't think the Church provided them with good support for their own mental health.

Meanwhile, the Church of Ireland is rolling out mental health training to clergy and pastoral carers. It's also recruiting what it calls a "mental health champion" which aims to "promote positive mental health in the Church of Ireland and the wider community".

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