Getting Fit
A New Plan Helps Stressed Clergy Move toward Wholeness
By Jonathan Goldstein and Ken Garfield

A $12 million grant will help United Methodist pastors across North Carolina practice healthy habits.

The Rev. Lisa Wishon D’92 of Charlotte’s Mouzon United Methodist Church describes the patterns of her life in terms that would likely sound familiar to many of her fellow pastors.

The Rev. Lisa Wishon of Mouzon United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C., finds time for a workout at the gym. Wishon tries to exercise three times per week and eat healthy foods, but she says it’s a challenge to balance time for physical and
spiritual self care.

She typically works 50-hour weeks, with little time for herself. Although she tries to eat well, often she finds herself snacking on popcorn or peanut butter crackers. She has trouble making time to socialize or blow off steam away from the church. In fact, Wishon says, she’s hard pressed even to stop talking or thinking about the church.

“The church is always looming,” says Wishon, 53, who graduated from Duke Divinity School in 1992. “There are so many expectations. It’s 24/7.”

Overwork. Stress. Loneliness. Weight gain. Church leaders say these and related problems plague ministers across the state, undermining the spiritual, mental and physical health of clergy and affecting hundreds of congregations.

“This is the most difficult time to do ministry in decades,” says Bishop Alfred Gwinn Jr. of the United Methodist Church’s North Carolina Conference. “There is no greater threat of distracting or derailing the church from its main mission of forming disciples than health problems.”

Now Duke Divinity School is working with The Duke Endowment and the two conferences of the United Methodist Church in North Carolina to systematically study the health of the state’s 1,600 United Methodist ministers and to help them with troubles ranging from lack of exercise to depression to spiritual stagnation. The Duke Endowment, a private foundation that supports numerous church, educational, health care and child welfare organizations, announced in July a $12 million gift to pay for the program, which is administered by the Divinity School.

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