By Susan Cooper, Kansas communications associate director
|Church dinners can be a minefield of high-fat and high-sugar foods. (photo by Britt Bradley)|
They are constantly confronted with fat-laden food and sumptuous sweets prepared and served by the devoted and loving hands of their church members.
They are expected to answer calls for advice, comfort and support 24 hours a day seven days a week.
They are held accountable for every facet of the lives of their churches.
Pastors also carry the pressure and uncertainty of the United Methodist appointment process.
All of these things can add up to health risks, high stress levels and early death for clergy.
“We neglect ourselves, and we say, ‘Isn’t it a good thing? Isn’t it good that I’m burnt out and exhausted? That must mean I’m doing my job well,” said Rev. Tom Mattick at the recent Clergy Wellness Retreat in Wichita.
|Rev. Tom Mattick gives tips on healthier living at the Clergy Wellness Retreat in Wichita. (photo by Susan Cooper)|
He said the congregation also plays a part in the well-being of the pastor. Members may place unrealistic expectations and high demands for time upon clergy.
Burned-out pastors can create other problems. They may be in danger of leaving the ministry.
Mattick said a recent survey showed that more than 50 percent of ordained clergy indicated they would leave if they felt they could.
According to Mattick, 75 percent of pastors who left ordained ministry have reported that their spiritual life wasn’t what they wanted it to be, and only 11 percent felt they could maintain separation between spiritual life and personal life.
This year, the United Methodist General Board of Pension and Health Benefits’ Center for Health in conjunction with Duke University and the Virginia Conference wellness ministries conducted the Clergy Health Survey.
The survey revealed that clergy, compared with an age-matched sample of adults in the general population, have higher rates of chronic physical- and emotional-health conditions. Obesity, high cholesterol, pre-diabetes, pre-hypertension and functional symptoms of depression rates are significantly higher among clergy.
Other survey results for clergy showed:
Compared to a matched sample, the survey results for United Methodist clergy also revealed higher rates of:
Mattick said another dynamic is that pastors often are in denial about their own wellness.
“They just do not see it as a priority. They don’t perceive it as broken. Wellness isn’t a high priority as long I’m still functioning, as long as I can still work,” he said.
Pastors may view self-care as just one more thing they have to do.
“I’m busy; I’m already stressed out; I am already stretched. This is my breaking point,” Mattick said.
“Let’s suppose you broke your arm. Would you seek out a doctor? Would you go through physical therapy? Of course. Your spirit, depression—they’re just as important as a broken bone. Why do you think it’s not important to take time for your health?”
In contrast, Mattick said Jesus took the time for self-care. He gave the example of Jesus withdrawing from his followers after feeding the 5,000 in Matthew 22-23.
“He took time apart to care for himself,” Mattick said.
The Kansas East and West conferences are trying to improve the health of pastors.
The Clergy Wellness Program was established in 2010 to educate pastors on practices that lead to better mental and physical health. The program is offered at no cost to participants and is funded through the Kansas Health Foundation and the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund.
Participants begin the program by attending a two-day retreat that includes consultations with a physician, nutritionist, physical therapist and wellness coach as well as spiritual and financial advisors. They then are given personal goals for wellness and receive continued support.
The Clergy Health Survey noted that improving diet is a key factor to better health. Reducing fat intake, eating smaller portions, increasing fruit and vegetable intake, eating more whole grains and drinking more water are easy ways to start.
The U.S. government website, www.ChooseMyPlate.gov, has a wealth of information and tools for eating healthier. Sections include 10 Tips Nutrition Education Series, Healthy Eating on a Budget, Sample Menus and Recipes, and Tips for Increasing Physical Activity.
Mattick said being physically active on a regular basis can help increase the chances of living longer, improve self-esteem and decrease the risk of depression.
He recommended a combination of exercise:
Congregations—and staff-parish committees, in particular—can encourage time off, better diet and other healthy practices to help prevent burn out for their pastors and themselves.
Mattick said the opportunity to participate in the Clergy Wellness Program puts United Methodist pastors in Kansas in “a very privileged position.”
“Few have this tool and resource placed at their feet. It’s an amazing gift that’s given to the clergy of these conferences,” he said.
To learn more about the Clergy Wellness Program, contact Susan Harvey at 316-775-6325 or firstname.lastname@example.org.