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Spirited Life

Addressing the Health of UMC Clergy in N.C.

Jim Harry D’94If you’re concerned about clergy health, you’re not alone. The topic has been in the news often during the past few months, in part because Duke Divinity School’s Clergy Health Initiative has confirmed that United Methodist pastors in North Carolina are more likely to suffer from obesity and chronic disease than other comparable state residents.

Now there’s a way to help pastors become healthier.

The Clergy Health Initiative has developed Spirited Life, a multi-year holistic health and wellness program and behavioral health study. Enrollment is open through Oct. 31, 2010, for all clergy serving under appointment to a local church or on conference staff in the North Carolina and Western North Carolina Conferences of the United Methodist Church, with the exception of clergy who received the services of the Clergy Health Initiative pilot program. The program is funded by The Duke Endowment and endorsed by the two participating conferences. There is no cost to participate.

Spirited Life recasts health in the context of ministry, recognizing that unless pastors are well in mind, body, and spirit, it is difficult for them to care effectively for their congregations. Working within a holistic framework of Wesleyan theology and spirituality, Spirited Life focuses on two distinct but inseparable drivers of health—the ability to deal with stressful situations and the ability to eat well and take care of the body—while also folding in accountability and support measures.

Joann Turner D’04“We learned through our pilot program that building in support mechanisms was crucial—pastors really seemed to value the opportunity to share their successes and challenges with others,” says Robin Swift, the Clergy Health Initiative’s director of health programs. “Spirited Life participants will receive support from specially trained health coaches, as well as from their peers. The program will also engage congregations and conference leadership in support of pastors’ health, because change happens only if a problem is addressed on many fronts.”

Because the program is a research study as well as a service program, pastors wanting to participate must enroll by Oct. 31. They then will be randomly assigned to one of three groups. Each group will receive wellness services for two years of the program, with the first group beginning in January 2011. The remainder of the time, they will serve as a comparison group to the other two groups.

This is the first combined weight loss and stress reduction program in the nation to receive rigorous study, and one of only a handful in which programming lasts more than 12 months. By studying the effects on pastors’ health—measured through periodic surveys and instant-read blood screenings—the Clergy Health Initiative hopes to be able to offer a proven program that can be adopted by other United Methodist conferences and faith communities.

Learn more about Spirited Life or register for the program »