Grace Hackney: I Want to be a Healthy Pastor

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Wendell Berry has famously said that the smallest unit of health is community. Being a pastor is teaching me that...

Thank you to Rev. Grace Hackney for the following commentary.

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Kate Rugani
Communications Manager
Clergy Health Initiative

I want to be a healthy pastor.

I know that mind, body and spirit are tightly interwoven. I know that God wants me to be healthy, whole, undivided. I learned as a child that my body was a temple of the Holy Spirit. But I also learned that we are clay pots, easily broken, able to be used even with cracks. I know from experience that sometimes we are better vessels for the Holy Spirit when we are broken; it is only then that we can get ourselves out of the way and make room for the mighty Spirit of God to work.

I want to be a healthy pastor, in the fullest sense of the word. I was a Health and Physical Education major and captain of the field hockey team. As a young adult I ran a marathon. I married an exercise physiologist. As a young mother, I kept our children away from sodas and fast food and turned off the television except for special occasions.

I want to be a healthy pastor.

Last month I found myself sitting in the dentist’s chair with my mouth stretched open for a full two and a half hours as I received two gold crowns for Christmas. As I lay there unable to speak or move, my mind took me to the past seven years as a full-time elder in the church. “How has ministry changed me?” I pondered.

As a Wesleyan, I would like to say I have moved at least a little bit closer to perfection, or that I have at least glimpsed moments of perfection as I have pastored, preached, prodded, and otherwise served as shepherd of this flock.

Mouth stretched open, I counted the ways my body has changed in seven years: two gold crowns, fifteen added pounds, more gray hair. I have moved from peri-menopause to menopause in seven years. I have sweated during the prayer of confession and bled as I broke the Body of Christ. I have joined the apostle Paul in sleepless nights and the Council has been witness to my mood swings, far surpassing those of pubescent girls.

I want to be a healthy pastor. I tell the congregation that I cannot live into my ordination until they live into their baptisms. I cannot be healthy unless they are committed to my health. I tell them, “it takes a community to practice Sabbath.” The reverse is also true: they cannot live into their baptisms unless I live into my ordination; they cannot be a healthy congregation unless I am committed to their health. We need each other as we seek to be healthy, in the fullest sense of the word.

Wendell Berry has famously said that the smallest unit of health is community. Being a pastor is teaching me that. Women in their 50’s are going to go through menopause and are probably going to have dental issues just as surely as teenagers are going to have acne. How we live with each other during these stages of life can be witness to our love of God and neighbor. It means that as pastors, we are fully human, and only striving for the spark of the Divine. It means that daily, we must step off the pedestals our parishioners try to put us on and into the muck and mire of living together. It means we make appointments with ourselves to walk, to ponder, to garden, to knit. It means we care what our church pot-lucks look like. It means we don’t bring a pound cake to the Trustees meeting because we love George, who is diabetic, and love doesn’t tempt one another.

I want to be a healthy pastor. I wonder if the salvation of the world is actually dependent upon our commitment to each other: body, mind, and soul. I wonder what Church would look like if we really believed that God loved us so much that he gave us his Son so that we could all be healthy, so that we could love one another so much that it would really matter what we ate, how we used our time, how we lived our lives together. I wonder if the non-Christian world would see us and say, “See how those Christians love one another?!”

I want to be a healthy pastor.

Will you help me?



Rev. Grace Hackney is senior pastor at Cedar Grove United Methodist Church in Cedar Grove, N.C. Cedar Grove UMC is one of the partner churches in the Thriving Rural Communities initiative, whose mission is to share and strengthen the gifts of North Carolina’s rural clergy, congregations, communities, and creation in the name of Christ.

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