Tell us a little about yourself
I’m David Harknett and I’m a team vicar ministering in a multi-parish rural setting in the Diocese of Salisbury. I’ve been ordained since 2003, and am married with three primary-age children, one of whom has special needs.
How did you come to join a Reflective Practice Group (RPG)?
I’d been putting off joining an RPG, which are ongoing in my diocese, for years because I thought I was too busy to drive 45 minutes to a monthly meeting. I joined in 2014 because I’d been seriously ill and off work for 14 months, and the diocese then requested that I took part, but that is unusual – clergy are free to join or not.
How quickly did the group trust and confide in each other?
For me, from session one. We had an A4 sheet of group guidelines that our facilitator took us through but I was also very aware of God’s presence and how we were honouring each other in the group. It’s been an incredible blessing from day one.
What has been the value to your ministry?
I would say sanity and perspective, on self and on others. It’s directly and indirectly helped me focus on Christ and deepened my faith. It’s given me a bigger vision of ministry, as all five of us in the group had different nuances to what we are doing. It’s helped me be more honest about who I am and more other-person centred. I’ve also got a better appreciation of other people’s frailties – although we’re clergy, we’re human beings as well. It gives me an increased sense of the priestly call and the privilege, in the sense of what we are being called to do is very special, and humbling. My listening skills are better, in that you learn to listen and reflect back rather than find solutions, and listening brings insights.
What about difficult issues that come up?
I’ve found it a very helpful way to talk about the church and the diocese, without others judging and knowing it’s confidential between us. We can let off some of our steam, and yet people are not fanning the flame, but are listening. That’s been very productive because I’m aware that we’re not always honest as clergy. This process has allowed me to be more realistic about my expectations of other people, in the parish, of colleagues and of senior staff.
Did you find that having an external facilitator benefited the group?
It’s been fantastic. It’s walking in and seeing someone you don’t know and won’t see anywhere else. I think that’s invaluable. It’s the holding role that they have, and the fact that they’re external means I’ve felt freer to talk. Our facilitator starts us off and then asks very astute but infrequent questions.
Why do you think dioceses should offer RPGs to their clergy?
I think RPGs are essential to the wellbeing and sanity of your clergy and increase the fruitfulness of their ministry. On a personal level, there is something about being human as a priest that comes out in RPGs as nowhere else, and it is very precious – the RPG is somehow holding the tension between being human, being Christian and being a priest. There’s something essential about nurturing our spirits, as a person as well as a priest.
RPGs are an investment for both diocese and individual clergy – are they worth it?
There is something hugely prophylactic and preventative about RPGs, on a pragmatic and expedient level but also on a rich, deep level. I think it makes for safer, surer leaders and if dioceses put this into place, there will be much less firefighting. As the proverb says, it’s much better to put a barrier at the top of the cliff than an ambulance at the bottom!
It’s been an incredible blessing from day one. I think RPGs are essential to the wellbeing and sanity of your clergy and increase the fruitfulness of their ministry. On a personal level, there is something about being human as a priest that comes out in RPGs as nowhere else, and it is very precious – the RPG is somehow holding the tension between being human, being Christian and being a priest.