News & Insights

Are the church leaders who graduate from your school more likely to be sicker later in life than a random group of people in the same age group?

New research by the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke Divinity School indicates that Methodist clergy are, in fact, more likely to experience significant health problems — higher rates of diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, angina, and asthma — than comparable state residents.

Kate Rugani, writing for Faith and Leadership, reports that many of the health problems are related to obesity: nearly 40 percent of North Carolina’s United Methodist clergy have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, compared with 29 percent of all North Carolinians.

Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, the Clergy Health Initiative’s research director, says, “Churches are having an increasingly hard time paying their pastors’ medical bills, causing us to ask whether chronic disease rates among pastors are on the rise. We now know that’s the case.”

Other researchers have noted that these trends are not confined to one denomination, or one region of the country. Stephen McCutchan, a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and member of the Presbytery Pastoral Care Network, says that clergy miss opportunities to care for their congregations when they fail to care for their own physical, mental, and spiritual health.

One effort to combat the full range of health and self-care issues among clergy was reported in a recent post on Duke’s Call and Response blog: one United Methodist conference has offered “each clergyperson serving a parish within the conference a three-month sabbatical leave every six years if he or she were willing to participate in certain life-shaping, ministry-changing assessments.” These include a 360° evaluation, a complete physical, review of personal financial goals with a financial planner, and a 3-month renewal leave every six years contingent on a theological review by the same body that reviews candidates at the beginning of their ministries for ordination.

Are there ways for schools to incorporate similar checkpoints, reviews, and advice into all the information that fills the calendar and curricula? Is this a conversation your board might want to initiate?

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