The clergy health initiative will include an initial assessment of ministers followed by up to seven years of gathering information about issues including job satisfaction, spiritual practices, exercise, cultivating friendships and general well-being.
At the same time, the effort will promote practical steps toward improving the health of clergy, whose death rates from heart disease are among the highest for any occupation. Health coaches will be recruited across the state to work with pastors on diet, exercise, smoking cessation and other behavioral changes.
Peer groups and other support programs will aid pastors in improving and sustaining physical and spiritual health and wholeness. A new Web site will help further connect clergy, allowing them to communicate regularly and offering a variety of resources for healthy living practices.
“This project is about health as wholeness,” says Duke Divinity School Dean L. Gregory Jones. “Our hope is that by learning more about the clergy who serve in these churches and in helping them lead healthier lives, we will cultivate more effective leaders for the church and for the communities in North Carolina that these churches serve.”
Jones and other leaders say they expect congregations to see the benefits of healthier living for ministers and make changes in their own lives. They also hope the initiative will become a national model. The need is obvious, they say.
Data and anecdotal evidence across denominations suggest that clergy are increasingly unhealthy:
In addition to the human cost in illness and unhappiness, there is a growing dollar figure attached to an unhealthy clergy.