Recommendations: criteria and compliance for a safer church

One of the key recommendations to the Anglican Church is in Book 16:5:

The Anglican Church of Australia should develop and each diocese should implement mandatory national standards to ensure that all people in religious or pastoral ministry (bishops, clergy, religious and lay personnel):

a undertake mandatory, regular professional development, compulsory components being professional responsibility and boundaries, ethics in ministry and child safety

b undertake mandatory professional/pastoral supervision

c undergo regular performance appraisals.20

The Safe Ministry Commission, on behalf of the General Synod, implemented a phased approach throughout 2019 for developing the mandatory national standards for professional development, professional/pastoral supervision, and performance appraisals. I was seconded to the General Synod office to undertake this work, and I will focus here on pastoral (professional) supervision, while noting that the three strands should be nested together. The consultation canvassed several broad groups: the national consultation with Anglican bishops; other large gatherings of senior clergy and parish clergy; individual consultations with Anglican bishops and diocesan representatives; individual consultations with other denominational leaders and representatives; individual consultations with experienced supervisors, mentors, and coaches; and individual consultations with clergy with experience of mandatory supervision.

I have already outlined previously how the oversight of clergy and church workers has declined, some might argue disappeared, in the Anglican Church of Australia. First was the out-of-sight and out-of-mind feature of settler stories that perpetuated systemic abuses and their cover-up. Second was the disregard for tradition and authority in the larrikin spirit which dismissesany notion of oversight. For these reasons, the responses to the Royal Commission have focussed attention on changing culture and not merely mandatory compliance. How far have we come?

Reaction and responses: culture change for a safer church

In March 2019, more than two years after the final recommendations were made, a survey of 21 diocesan bishops found the extent of professional supervision is greater than anticipated, yet remaining inconsistent across the national church. The result from those dioceses with greater resources, and those who implemented earlier, tend to mask the reality for many rural and remote diocese that had little or no existing supervision. A phased introduction of minimum standards became a practical necessity which encourages those dioceses well underway to continue and those only beginning to prioritise its implementation. A second question regarding what was learned during implementation resulted in two common themes of first, adequate resourcing (‘the issue of supply of supervisors and the cost of supervision is significant’) and second, anticipated resistance (‘importance of accountability with respect to engaging in supervision and reporting on this, clarity of the expected boundaries, having good orientation and engagement with our team of supervisors’).21 These comments capture the recurring theme from the entire consultation regarding resources for implementation: both diocesan and individual capacity constraints were consistently raised as the primary barriers.

The widespread support for minimum standards was perhaps the most surprising and encouraging aspect of all the consultations. There was not a single in-principle objection to pastoral supervision becoming a national standard. Considerable explanation and interpretation of the phrase ‘degree of independence from the institution’ was also a feature. The call for external regulation has come from various voices.22 Many in the consultation phase had interpreted this to exclude other Anglicans. I offered an interpretation based on the established practice of social work supervision where professional supervision is provided by someone in the wider institution. This approach is common, for example, within New South Wales Health, and replicated in most hospitals and aged-care facilities. Critically—even in these contexts—professional supervision is never provided by the line manager. Another potential impediment to consistent national standards is that some dioceses have already adopted mandatory supervision (e.g., Perth, Newcastle), while the larger metropolitan dioceses (e.g., Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane) are close to adopting, or strengthening, local standards. An audit is proposed in the canon as a necessary process for ensuring locally adopted standards for pastoral supervision meet the minimum national standards.

The draft standard states that accredited supervision can be delivered by a person who (1) provides a formal, written agreement (contract, covenant) for supervision; (2) is approved by the bishop (or delegate) to provide

Pastoral supervision, Australian context 13 pastoral supervision in the diocese; (3) undertakes regular supervision; and must be (4) delivered for a minimum of six hours (individual) or 12 hours (peer/group).23

Discerning the criteria for these standards, to comply with the recommendation of the Royal Commission, was only the first step to a safe church. How will pastoral supervision be implemented at the local diocesan level and will individual clergy and church workers embrace this relatively new ministry practice? The process for implementing pastoral supervision will, necessarily, vary from diocese to diocese: from large and well-resourced contexts on the east coast (e.g., Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane) to the remote and under-resourced north (e.g., Northern Territory and North-West Australia). The guidelines developed for diocesan implementation of pastoral supervision include (1) authorise a diocesan representative for implementation and oversight of supervision; (2) resource the cost of supervision through diocesan budgets; (3) establish and publish a register of approved supervisors; (4) maintain a log of supervision received for clergy and church workers; (5) resource the training, support, and supervision of approved supervisors; and (6) for larger dioceses (or General Synod), consider establishing a helpdesk in the first two years.

Another significant aspect of the consultation phase was education: that pastoral supervision has a threefold restorative, formative, and normative function, according to Leach and Patterson, who have translated the traditional functional model of supervision into the ministry context. The first main function of pastoral supervision is formative: an educative process that may include skill development or guidance on handling difficult situations, developing self-awareness introducing new areas of knowledge, suggesting different perspectives encouraging growth and change, and rehearsing new strategies or roles. The second task is restorative: a supportive role enacted through active listening, encouragement, and feedback, an opportunity for expressing feelings, helping supervisees to connect with their vision or sense of vocation, assisting with re-discovering the self that can be lost in the work (i.e., being themselves in their ministry role), recharging energy, and sharing ideas and creativity. The third—and most distinct—function of pastoral supervision is normative: dealing sensitively with boundary and ethical issues, matters of the supervisee being safe to work, issues of competency, consideration of codes of conduct, and ethical and boundary violations.24

Misconceptions about pastoral supervision are commonplace. Professional supervision is properly understood as the supervision of professionals and does not infantilise clergy as naughty, stupid, or weak. Only those with knowledge of the clinical and social work practice of professional supervision readily understood the purpose and practice of pastoral supervision.25 Often the question concerned the differences (and similarities) between pastoral supervision and other one-to-one activities that clergy and ministry workers access such as coaching, mentoring, and spiritual direction. Some, with a background in line management (normative) or spiritual direction

(formative), understood one key function of pastoral supervision but not its broad scope. Others, with a background in mentoring and coaching, better appreciated the scope of pastoral supervision (e.g., supporting and educating) but often lacked the necessary structure (e.g., many mentors are not supervised for their work with those being mentored). A recent graduate from a supervision training course summarised the differences as:

Writers on supervision recognise the danger of self-deception and the tendency we have to hide the truth from ourselves. Private reflection isn’t enough because we rationalize and defend ourselves against what is painful. We need others to speak into our thoughts. Supervisors can challenge and provide a different perspective.26

Education about, and equipping for, pastoral supervision remains the unfinished business of the culture change required to enable and ensure faithful and safe practice by clergy and church workers. This culture change can happen firstly through locating pastoral supervision within the broader biblical and Anglican practice of oversight demystifies what initially appears to many clergy an alien activity. Secondly, deeper theological roots for the theory and practice of pastoral supervision must be developed. In the final section, I sketch the way forward for each of these.

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