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.
Paul Bradbury, pioneer minister, tells us why reflective practice groups are important to his wellbeing
What was your path to ordination?
After uni, I worked as a biochemist, and then moved to church-based community work. I was ordained in 2004 when I was 32. I’m married with two older kids – one in sixth form and one at uni. We live in Poole where I’m a pioneer minister for the Diocese of Salisbury.
What does that involve?
I minister in the centre of Poole, in a ‘fresh expression’ context where I am mainly advising and training others on how we can connect with people who might not come to a traditional church service or building. We’ve learned a lot from trying different things.
What are the main pressures you experience in your ministry?
I’m self-supporting so am finding funding, which is ongoing. We own our house and receive a housing allowance, but this may be coming to an end. I also work two days a week for Church Mission Society. What we are doing is quite slow to build, so there can be pressure for change to happen more quickly, and it can be isolating because what I’m doing is different from other clergy. Establishing boundaries can be difficult, although I’m doing better than I was.
You’re part of a Reflective Practice Group (RPG) – why did you get involved?
It’s a requirement in our diocese for training incumbents. It came at a point when I knew it would be helpful – we’d just closed a community café because it wasn’t sustainable and the team was burned out. I was a little bit resistant, perhaps because it was imposed rather than something I chose to do, but that resistance quickly disappeared.
So what do you find beneficial in an RPG?
It’s a good model – what’s said in the group stays in the group, and there’s not anyone from diocesan staff there. My current group is actually my second one. For me, it’s a half-hour train journey for a monthly meeting. Time has been more of a struggle for me recently, as I’m now doing two jobs, but going consistently is really important and I actually value the fact that I give over a whole afternoon in effect to the RPG. As a group, we’re a mix of evangelical and High Anglican persuasions and that’s been great, to learn from others’ experience and have my own prejudices challenged!
Any other issues it has helped you face?
Being part of the group aids reflection and it’s a space where you can talk honestly about something you maybe can’t resolve. I know I have felt I have made a lot of progress through sharing in this space – it was instrumental in helping me move forward on a particular issue. It has helped to reduce my feelings of isolation and I feel affirmed in my ministry by the RPG, even though the other members are all in parish ministry.
Does it benefit you as a father and husband?
Yes, we talk about where we’re at and about family life – I think clergy are usually very bad at this. It means that we know each other as people primarily, rather than clergy.
What would you say to someone considering joining an RPG?
It’s part of tilling the soil – without something like this, I would suggest your ministry won’t be as fruitful. It’s a really helpful tool.