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June 16, 1999






Clergy want more family support
___By Mark Wingfield
___Managing Editor
___KNOXVILLE, Tenn.--American clergy strongly wish their denominations provided more support for their families--support they cannot find in their own communities and churches, according to research by two University of Tennessee professors.
___Most denominations lack any kind of clergy support services that are family oriented, said Priscilla Blanton, a professor of child and family studies at the Knoxville, Tenn., university.
___In recent years, she and a colleague, Lane Morris, have conducted a series of studies of American clergy families, the unique stresses they face and how denominations address those needs. One of these studies is published in the June issue of the Review of Religious Research.
___Blanton said her interest in the subject was sparked when a local Episcopal diocese invited her to speak to a clergy retreat on family care in clergy families. When she began her research in preparation for the assignment, she found little work had been reported in the area.
___She knows some of the unique challenges faced by clergy families herself, being the daughter and niece of Baptist ministers. Her father was a pastor in Virginia, and her uncle, K. Owen White, was pastor of First Baptist Church of Houston and at one time president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
___While clergy families experience many rewards, they also face special challenges, especially related to socialization, she said.
___In one of Blanton and Morris' studies, they asked clergy to describe their greatest needs for support and denominations to describe what kinds of clergy support they offer.
___The biggest gap they found was in meeting the needs of clergy families.
___"Clergy and their spouses appear to be lonely people," Blanton said. "They don't feel they have enough social support in their lives. That seems to be very influential in terms of their emotional well-being and their physiological well-being.
___"They are part of a church community, but there is a distance built in. You're a part of it in a different kind of way."
___The recently published study, which sampled the opinions of male clergy and their spouses in six denominations, found this issue to weigh most heavily on clergy spouses.
___Their frequent responses included phrases such as "There are not enough relationships in our lives where we feel we can be ourselves" and "I have very few people I can confide in about the really important matters in my life" and "There are too few relationships in my life that make me feel emotionally connected."
___The message denominations need to hear, Blanton said, is that clergy families need support services geared specifically for spouses and children. They suggest that these could include spouse relocation employment services, programs to help children adjust to relocation and to being part of a clergy family, and opportunities for clergy families to build relationships outside the church context.
___Mixed in with the lack of social support, the researchers found, are ever-increasing expectations and time demands placed on clergy families.
___"Living with loneliness and a sense of being 'stretched too thin' may create a situation in which women in general are likely to experience feelings of resentment and frustration," they write.
___Another major stressor on clergy families is the level of financial compensation ministers receive, Blanton and Morris report. This weighs most heavily on the male ministers, who feel a burden to provide for the needs of their families.
___"Pretax personal income predicted positive affect for clergy, and their perception of how their financial situation compared to other ministers in their denomination" made positive feelings more positive and negative feelings more negative, the report says.
___"Even though the provider role has become more of a shared role in contemporary marriages, the salience of this role for men's sense of identity as husbands and fathers is still primary."

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