Who Cares for the Carers? A Challenge for Clergy in the Church of Uganda

 

When I was ordained deacon and sent to work at Lyantonde Parish in West Buganda Diocese, I worked under the supervision of the Rural Dean. At the time West Buganda was one of few Dioceses, if not the only one, that still had Deaneries (Luganda, Twaale). I never found out why other Dioceses had removed this element from their administrative and support structures. In time West Buganda caught up with them.

The Rural Dean or Area Dean was a senior priest who offered support to fellow clergy and lay readers from the churches that comprised the Deanery. In Lyantonde Twaale, the farthest church from the centre was about five miles away.

The Area Dean also liaised with Archdeacon and Bishop and communicated information from such meetings with fellow clergy, readers and Heads of Christians (Mukulu wa Bakulistaayo). Church of England parishes do not have a Head of Christians, this role being assumed by Churchwardens, but in the Church of Uganda, the Head of Christians and parishioners is crucial in mobilising other Christians and being their voice at several church meetings, especially with the Bishop or Archdeacon.

I said I did not find out the real reason for the elimination of the structure of the Deanery and its office holder. My educated guess is it was deemed rather expensive to operate and that it was removed to cut down on expenditure, for example, the travel and other expenses of the Area Dean when they attended various meetings at the Diocese or Archdeaconry. Another reason, related to the above, might be the need to streamline things such that the role of the Area Dean was taken up or over by the Archdeacon. The office of the Area Dean might be seen as duplicating work that would more efficiently be undertaken by the Archdeacon. If that is so, it raises the question of the load that an Archdeacon is made to bear, especially where an Archdeacon also doubles as a parish priest. As a support structure for parish clergy and readers, I think the structure of the Deanery had a lot to commend it. My memory, which has been reinforced by my experience of ministry in the Church of England, is that it offered good social, pastoral and ministerial support. Clergy and readers met, prayed together, shared news, experiences and tips about ministry in their respective contexts. There was also a lot of banter at these meetings.

So, I am raising the question about the Deanery not in the belief that it is a necessary or indispensable Diocesan structure but as spur to opening up the subject of pastoral support for parish clergy, chaplains and lay readers in the Church of Uganda. It is a question that I have talked about with a few bishops and clergy in the Church of Uganda and I know that it is an area worth exploring. This proposal therefore comes out of my conversations with Ugandan clergy in recent years about issues such as pastoral and ministerial support, life-long learning, continuous personal and ministerial development, accountability in ministry, and personal and spiritual care and renewal. I have been able to share my experience on ministry both in the Church of Uganda and in the Church of England at various levels: theological and ministerial education, University chaplaincy and parish ministry.

If the conversations I have had with some leaders in the Church of Uganda are representative, I can reliably say that most clergy are eager to grow and improve their effectiveness in ministry, but also that they face many challenges as well. My experience of the typical Ugandan priest is that he or she is not a moaner or given to whinging, but demonstrates much faith, enthusiasm and hope even in contexts that would make others worried. The exuberance, however, sometimes conceals real difficulties and concerns which clergy and readers may experience.

Clergy are eager to attain additional qualification or training in theology, mission and ministry or in administration, leadership or other field as these serve to enhance their confidence and status. But these are only a small part of a whole package that should include clergy support, pastoral care and spiritual renewal as they minister from day to day. The issue may be thrown into sharp focus if the concerns are put in the form of a question: who is there to give pastoral support to clergy: who is there to listen if they wish to talk; whether they have someone to consult if their pastoral or personal circumstances require counselling; whether they take a day off each week; how they re-charge their spiritual batteries.

I have not suggested solutions to the above question. My intention was to draw attention to a pastoral issue that needs exploring and which it would be unfortunate to brush aside. I hope that this short reflection will stir clergy and those in supervisory positions to assess what provision there might be for the support of the clergy and readers.

Revd Amos Kasibante