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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Preaching A Healthy Lifestyle To Pastors

Pastor Charles Lindquist. (Duke Clergy Health Initiative)

Pastor Charles Lindquist. (Duke Clergy Health Initiative)

A pastor’s job is to tend to the needs of the flock.

But sometimes that comes with a cost, especially when it comes to health-related issues.

Now the Duke Endowment’s Clergy Health Initiative is trying to improve the physical well being of Methodist ministers in North Carolina.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Dave DeWitt of WUNC reports that the wellness program is having an impact, at least on one pastor.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. A preacher's job is to tend to the needs of the flock, but sometimes that can come at a cost to a preacher's health. Now, the Duke Endowment's Clergy Health Initiative is trying to improve the physical wellbeing of Methodist ministers in North Carolina. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, WUNC's Dave DeWitt reports that the wellness program is having an impact, at least on one pastor.

DAVE DEWITT, BYLINE: Like their friends the Baptists, the Methodists love a good potluck dinner. Any church gathering can serve as a reason to bring out the cakes, cookies and casseroles, and in rural North Carolina, that puts church leaders, like Pastor Charles Lindquist, in an awkward position.

PASTOR CHARLES LINDQUIST: And I used to - people used to say get up there in the front of the line, you know, and you had this feeling of 90 pairs of eyes staring at you to see whose food you were going to take. So you were trying to take some of everything.

DEWITT: Lindquist or Pastor Charles, as he's known, heads the Jordan Memorial United Methodist Church in Ramseur, 30 miles south of Greensboro. The tacit pressure to take something from everyone's dinner offering has had a dual impact. He's beloved by his congregation, but he was not a healthy person.

LINDQUIST: Well, I was on blood pressure medicine. I was on cholesterol medicine. I was way overweight.

DEWITT: Turns out, Pastor Charles is hardly alone.

RAE JEAN PROESCHOLD-BELL: It didn't make any sense that pastors would be less healthy than your average American.

DEWITT: Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell is an assistant research professor at the Duke Global Health Institute and lead investigator with the Duke Clergy Health Initiative. She was skeptical of the anecdotal claims that clergy were less healthy because as a group they were highly educated, had steady jobs and had health insurance - characteristics that usually meant someone was likely to be more healthy. So she embarked on an extensive survey of Methodist pastors in North Carolina.

PROESCHOLD-BELL: And my goodness, if they weren't right. We found very high rates of obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and depression.

DEWITT: Much higher than the general public. Obesity rates for clergy were 11 points higher. Depression rates were double. Proeschold-Bell believes she narrowed the problem down to the need for clergy to be on-call 24/7 and the stress that comes with their selfless devotion.

PROESCHOLD-BELL: Clergy feel divinely called to their profession, and they believe that they're called by God to do the work that they're doing, and this imbues a level of significance to everything they do that people of other professions don't often have.

DEWITT: Armed with that conclusion, Duke's Clergy Health Initiative launched Spirited Life, a two-year outreach program that provides individual consultation to about 1,100 Methodist pastors, helping them develop good habits for stress management, exercise and healthy eating. Spirited Life has had a dramatic affect on Pastor Charles. He's lost 85 pounds in a year. He eats smarter and exercises, plays nine holes of golf every week, walks and dashes around the tight, hilly streets of Ramseur on his StreetStrider - sort of an elliptical machine on wheels. Toni Marley has seen him tooling around town on the odd-looking bike. She's 91 years old and has been a member at Jordan Memorial since she was 16.

TONI MARLEY: He looks great, and I think he feels good.

DEWITT: And while she's a fan of the new, thinner Pastor Charles, Marley is also one of the stars of those potluck dinners, where she has a reputation for her cakes, and that's caused Pastor Charles to develop a new strategy.

LINDQUIST: So now what I do is I take my time at the back door greeting people and then in my office, you know, just kind of calming myself after worship and taking my robe off and stuff and then I make my way down to the fellowship hall. And by then, most of the food's gone.

DEWITT: Along with that new strategy and exercise regimen, Pastor Charles has more outlets for his stress. Altogether, he says it should keep him ministering to the folks at Jordan Memorial United Methodist Church for a long time. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Dave DeWitt in Ramseur, North Carolina.

YOUNG: To which we say, who knew? Terrific story. And we'll have more in one minute. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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  • Tom Lank

    As a United Methodist pastor, I am glad that you are highlighting clergy health.  Your concluding comment in response to the story was “Who knew?”  But we clergy have had it drilled into us for the past ten years that we need to be taking better care of ourselves as the healthcare premiums billed to our churches continue to rise.  This is not news to us or hopefully, to the churches we serve. Personally, after two years in ministry I found that at age 33 I had triglyceride readings four times higher than the normal threshold and began to change behaviors by carving out exercise time and changing my diet.  My congregation thankfully was totally supportive.  

    Two points were missing from your report that I think are salient, however.  First, despite the high rates of obesity and health complications, pastors still report some of the highest job satisfaction rates of any profession when surveyed.  The reporter insinuated that the gravity of the religious calling imbues every task with divine importance, encourages overwork, and leaves little time for self-care.  While this may be true, it has not diminished the deep sense of fulfillment that clergy experience from serving God daily.  Second, you reported that rates of depression among clergy are twice the national average.  This is due in large part to the difficulty many clergy have in establishing and maintaining true friendships.  Especially in small towns where clergy are serving alone, one can be quite isolated and feel intense loneliness even as one serves  and leads people each and every day.  For that reason I always prefer to serve on a staff with multiple ministers so that we can share each others joys and burdens, forestall burnout, and remain a little healthier.  Thanks for taking the time to report on this.

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