4. Pastoral Relationships


4.1 All people are created in the image of God and are of equal value.  This is the foundation of all pastoral relationships.

4.2 Clergy have authority conferred upon them by their ordination, consecration and licensing.  Church workers have authority conferred upon them by their appointment.  The authority and training associated with their roles means that they have power in pastoral relationships which is always to be exercised in the service of others.

4.3 Trust is of primary importance in the creation and maintenance of an effective pastoral relationship.  Trust grows with the maintenance of physical, sexual, emotional and psychological boundaries suitable to pastoral ministry.  (The issues of Children and Sexual Conduct are addressed in Sections 5 and 7 respectively.)  Clergy and church workers will enhance their ability to maintain these boundaries by attending to their own wellbeing.

4.4 While clergy and church workers often enjoy personal friendships with those to whom they minister, their pastoral ministry responsibilities take precedence.

4.5 Clergy and church workers are colleagues in pastoral ministry: the activity of one inevitably impacts upon the ministry of others.

Standards for clergy and church workers

These standards state the Church’s expectations for personal behaviour and the practice of pastoral ministry.

4.6 If you have overall authority in a church body, you are to ensure that clergy and church workers for whom you are responsible are provided with:

  • a safe working environment, including safe housing, where housing is provided;
  • opportunities to maintain and enhance their ministry skills; and
  • personal encouragement, support and regular feedback.

4.7 When exercising pastoral ministry you are to act in the best interests of those to whom you are ministering.  You must recognise any potential conflict of interest and take steps to resolve it.

4.8 When exercising pastoral ministry you are not inappropriately to discriminate between people.

4.9 You are not to disclose confidential information received in pastoral ministry to your spouse, family, friends, colleagues or any other person without the consent of the person providing the information, except where:

  • the information is known publicly;
  • as required or allowed by law; or
  • it is in the public interest (such as to avoid the risk of serious injury or harm to any person).

4.10 When you are on leave or unable to fulfil your responsibilities through illness or any other reason, you are to make alternative arrangements for pastoral ministry.


These guidelines explain and illustrate best practice and highlight practical ways to achieve it.


4.11 Make sure you are clear about the requirements of your role, including the hours to be worked and the nature of your responsibilities as well as your leave and other entitlements.  You need to be sure that your legitimate personal needs can be met.

4.12 Recognise the limits of your skills and experience.  Do not undertake any ministry (such as relationship counselling, counselling for abuse or addictions, or an exorcism) that is beyond your competence or the role for which you have been employed or trained.  If in doubt seek advice.  A person who requires specialised help should be referred to an appropriately qualified person or agency.

4.13 Where ministry responsibilities overlap, be aware of the activities, function and style of other clergy and church workers.  Consult with these colleagues and co-operate wherever possible.

4.14 Where your ministry responsibility to one person may conflict with your responsibility to another person to whom you are ministering, or with your own needs, you should seek advice from a colleague or supervisor. Consider the possibility of transferring ministry responsibility for one or both of these to another minister.

4.15 If you are unable to act in the best interest of the person to whom you are ministering because of your own interests you should seek advice from a colleague or supervisor and transfer ministry responsibility for the person to another minister.

4.16 Avoid behaviour that could give the impression of favouritism and inappropriate special relationships, particularly with individual children.

4.17 Think carefully before providing pastoral ministry to a person with whom you already have a close personal relationship, such as a friend or member of your family.  Care is needed because confusion between close personal relationships and pastoral relationships can lead to a loss of objectivity, failure to act in the other’s best interest and harm to both parties.

4.18 Pastoral relationships can legitimately develop into romantic relationships.  If this begins to happen:

  • acknowledge to yourself that your personal interest and the pastoral relationship are at risk of becoming confused;
  • tell the other person that your relationship is changing and becoming romantic;
  • disclose the nature of the relationship to a supervisor or colleague to ensure accountability and prevent misunderstanding; and
  • where practicable:
    • disclose to a supervisor or colleague any proposed alternative arrangements for ongoing individual pastoral ministry;
    • make alternative arrangements for ongoing individual pastoral ministry; and
    • cease providing individual pastoral ministry to the person.

4.19 If you are providing ongoing individual pastoral ministry or counselling, engage someone to provide regular professional supervision.  This will help protect you and those to whom you minister.

4.20 When you resign or retire, you should generally terminate existing pastoral relationships.  You should do this in a sensitive and timely manner to allow these responsibilities to be undertaken by your successors.  Consult with your successor where the other person wishes to maintain an ongoing pastoral relationship with you.

Personal and professional development

4.21 Maintain a healthy lifestyle and do not overcommit yourself.  Make sure you have adequate leisure time, through regularly taking time off, including your full holiday entitlement annually.

4.22 Try to develop interests outside your main area of ministry and continue to care for yourself and your personal and family relationships.

4.23 Look for, and take advantage of, opportunities to maintain and enhance ministry skills appropriate to the responsibilities of your role, through:

  • regular ministry development;
  • professional supervision / consultation;
  • peer support;
  • having a mentor; and
  • regular feedback including an annual ministry review.

Confidentiality and confessions

4.24 When you are seeking or providing professional supervision / consultation you should not identify any person and only disclose what is necessary to obtain the supervision or advice.

4.25 In most cases you should tell someone who is to give you confidential information of the limits to confidentiality and the arrangements for supervision or obtaining advice.  This should be done before the disclosure of the confidential information, such as at the beginning of an interview.

4.26 The Confessions Canon 1989 or the proviso to Canon 113 of 1603 is in force throughout the Church.  These Canons make provision for the confession of sins to clergy and for the confidentiality of this confession.  If you are a member of the clergy, you should be aware of the scope of, and your obligations under, the applicable Canon.  For example, absolution is not automatic and may be withheld.  You may require of the person making the confession of sins some appropriate action of contrition and reparation before you give them absolution.

4.27 There is a distinction between disclosures made in ordinary pastoral situations and disclosures made as a confession as provided in the applicable pastoral service in the Church’s authorised liturgies.  This service should normally be heard in a public place at advertised times or by arrangement.

4.28 If you are a church worker, remember that only clergy have the authority to receive a special confession of sins as provided in the applicable pastoral service in the Church’s authorised liturgies.

4.29 You may have a legal obligation to report criminal offences to the applicable civil authorities (the issue of child abuse is addressed in Section 5).  You may be subpoenaed to produce documents or to attend court to give evidence, or both.  In some States or Territories, clergy may be able to claim privilege from producing documents and/or disclosing information obtained in a confession referred to in paragraphs 4.24 to 4.25.

4.30 You should be aware of and, when appropriate, seek advice in regard to:

  • your legal obligations with regard to confidential information received during an interview or a confession, particularly in relation to criminal offences and child abuse;
  • the pastoral consequences of breaching confidentiality; and
  • the risk of physical, financial or emotional harm or hardship to another person by disclosing or not disclosing such information, particularly in writings, sermons or other public media.

4.31 Exercise special care that any illustrative material you use from personal experience does not involve a breach of confidentiality.

Communication in a ministry context

4.32 Any communication in a ministry context, whether formal or informal, is a pastoral encounter.  Communication may be face-to-face, in writing or involve some form of technology.  Consider the appropriateness and impact of your words and actions.

4.33 Innuendoes or compliments of a sexual nature are always inappropriate. When a person asks questions or seeks advice around topics of a sexual nature, be aware that they may have motives or needs that you do not understand.  Be realistic about your own ability to assist them.

4.34 To minimise the risk of being accused of or engaging in misconduct, particularly when conducting interviews, think carefully in advance about:

  • the place of the meeting, the arrangement of furniture and lighting, and your dress;
  • whether the physical location allows for privacy of conversation while maintaining the opportunity for supervision.  (For example, doors to interview rooms, if closed, should not be locked.);
  • the physical distance between you and the other person to maintain both hospitality and respect;
  • whether the circumstances would suggest a social interaction;
  • the propriety and circumstances of the interview when you are visiting or being visited alone, especially at night;
  • the personal safety and comfort of all participants;
  • establishing at the outset the interview’s purpose and the boundaries with respect to the subject matter, confidentiality and its duration;
  • the appropriateness of initiating or receiving any physical contact, such as gestures of comfort, that may be unwanted or misinterpreted; and
  • whether the presence of a child’s parent, guardian or another person chosen by the child is appropriate.

4.35 When considering using technology for communication, you should apply the same principles as you would in any other form of communication. Minimise the risk of harming others or yourself by asking:

  • is this an appropriate way to communicate about this matter?
  • should this communication be confidential? If so, do not use electronic media;
  • how will the language and images used impact upon the person receiving the communication and any other person who may access it?
  • could the circumstances of the communication, including the language and images used, suggest your relationship with the other person(s) is inappropriate?

Risks associated with using technology in communication

Clergy, church workers, and other participants in church activities – including children – often communicate using text and picture messaging, email, instant messenger services and chat rooms, video conferencing, blogs and internet forums, websites, social networking sites, and other forms of electronic interaction.

Remember information posted online is tracked and can be retrieved. Dangers associated with the use of communication technology are not always appreciated by clergy and church workers.  These dangers include:

  • losing your privacy;
  • losing control of information (such as photographs or emails);
  • ignoring personal security settings on social networking sites;
  • being unable to determine if people are who they say they are;
  • being exposed to unwanted information; and
  • becoming a victim of cyberbullying when someone sends or spreads threatening or embarrassing  information.

Record-keeping and privacy

4.36 If you are engaged in individual pastoral ministry, consider keeping a factual record of your daily pastoral activity.  Record details such as the date, time, place, participants, subject, and any proposed action arising from each activity.  Record personal remarks accurately.

4.37 You need to know the relevant principles of the applicable privacy legislation in relation to the collection, use, disclosure and management of personal information.  These have implications for:

  • the publication of personal information in church directories, newsletters, rosters and websites;
  • the recording and publication of voices and images of individuals; and
  • the use and security of all personal information, and especially sensitive information, held by clergy and church workers or in church offices.