Supporting Clergy Health - Spirited Life Wellness Program

Supporting Clergy Health - Spirited Life Wellness Program

At Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church in Pittsboro, N.C., the Rev. Jim Jones knows that if he takes good care of himself, he can take better care of his congregation.

But for many pastors, that’s a struggle. Clergy put in long hours, feeling the call to be available whenever there’s a congregational need. They know healthy habits are important, but it’s often hard to reserve time for themselves.

In 2007, amid growing concerns around clergy well-being, The Duke Endowment awarded a $12 million grant to Duke Divinity School to kickstart a seven-year effort to assess the overall health of United Methodist pastors in North Carolina and to develop a program that meets their needs. The Divinity School collaborated with the two North Carolina conferences of the United Methodist Church to implement the project. 

“We believed the Clergy Health Initiative would begin to foster a culture of well-being among pastors,” says Duke Endowment Trustee Dennis Campbell, who chairs the Committee on Rural Church. “By supporting the development and delivery of effective interventions, we wanted to give clergy the tools they needed to focus on their spiritual, mental and physical health.”

A two-year wellness program called Spirited Life is an offshoot of that work. Clergy learn stress management, healthy eating and exercise, and a scripturally-based rationale for taking care of themselves. Screenings and surveys track their health before, during and after receiving services. Small incentives help participants maintain their goals. Wellness advocates provide coaching and support. 

Results look promising. Thirty-five percent of pastors began the program with metabolic syndrome, a condition that raises a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. But after two years, 20 percent of those clergy were no longer at risk, due to reductions in weight, blood pressure and triglycerides.

More than 1,000 pastors are enrolled in Spirited Life — including Jones, who began the program in 2012. With support from Wellness Advocate Angela MacDonald, he’s shedding pounds and feeling healthier. He bought a kayak and takes time off to paddle on a nearby lake.

MacDonald says clergy need to be reminded to give themselves the grace they give to so many others. And Jones agrees. “I absolutely love being a pastor,” he says. “But I’ve learned that to be the best pastor I can be, I need to set aside time for my own well-being.”


Related Work

Area of Work

  • Clergy leadership

Program Area

  • Rural Church

Areas of Work

  • Prevention and early intervention for at-risk children

    To equip children and families with skills to ensure that children reach developmental milestones to lead successful lives.

  • Out-of-home care for youth

    To drive child welfare systems toward greater accountability for child well-being.

  • Quality and safety of health care

    Improving the quality and safety of health care delivery

  • Access to health care

    Improving health by increasing access to comprehensive care

  • Prevention

    Expanding programs to promote health and prevent disease

  • Academic excellence

    Enhancing academic excellence through program and campus development

  • Educational access and success

    Increasing educational access and supporting a learning environment that promotes achievement

  • Campus and community engagement

    Promoting a culture of service, collaboration and engagement among schools and communities

  • Rural church development

    Building the infrastructure and capacity of United Methodist churches to enhance ministry and mission

  • Clergy leadership

    Strengthening United Methodist churches by improving the quality and effectiveness of church leadership

  • Congregational outreach

    Engaging United Methodist congregations in programs that serve their communities

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