in Durham, North Carolina, has announced a $12 million grant from the to the university's for a new effort to assess, track, and improve the health of nearly every United Methodist pastor in North Carolina.
The divinity school will collaborate with the and the to implement the seven-year Clergy Health Initiative, which is expected to affect most, if not all, of the state's sixteen hundred United Methodist ministers. The initiative will include an initial health assessment of ministers — focusing on such issues as job satisfaction, spiritual practices, exercise, friendships, and general well-being — followed by a longitudinal study of their physical, spiritual, and mental health.
The program will also recruit coaches to work with participants on diet, exercise, smoking cessation, and other behavioral changes; will work to form peer groups to provide clergy with more support; and will create a Web site dedicated to healthy living practices. Officials hope the program will become a model for similar health initiatives across the country. "Over the years, clergy have gone from being one of the healthiest groups of professionals to the least healthy," said Joe Mann, director of rural church for the endowment. "A core value of the profession is taking care of others, and we're now learning that it has been at the expense of their own health."
Previous studies have found that clergy have one of the highest death rates from heart disease of any occupation and also struggle with problems such as obesity and depression. In addition, rising healthcare costs and demands on their time have caused many ministers to forgo annual physicals and other preventive measures that could help them improve their health.
"Through this effort, we are addressing both the health of ministers as well as their congregations and communities, by sharing strategies for maintaining a healthy, balanced life," said Duke University president Richard H. Brodhead. "I expect this work to influence how churches around the country care for their leaders."