After The Christian Century ran a story on the state of clergy health late last year, the magazine published several thoughtful letters it received in response to the article. These responses appeared only in the print version and not online, so I’m reprinting one below for us all to consider.
What questions does it raise for you?
Amy Frykholm’s article “Fit for Ministry” (Oct. 31) reminded me of the conversations I sometimes have during pastoral visits, when the person I’m visiting mentions in an offhand way an issue of real importance just as I’m getting up to leave. Frykholm spends most of her article talking about Spirited Life, a program that helps United Methodist clergy in North Carolina take steps toward healthy eating and wellness. In the article’s last paragraph, researcher Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell is quoted as saying that what is really needed for congregations to change the way they think about their clergy: “I would want them to think about the pastor as a whole person.”
This comment is more than a suggestion for future study. Proeschold-Bell has discovered the real challenge to clergy health — the inability of many clergy to feel like they can be themselves in the context of their role as pastor.
I read the article after leading a week-long session for young clergy. We talked about the gifts and the costs of “showing up” as ourselves in the context of ministry. Among the costs that these young pastors identified: “Spiteful people will take what they learn about me and use it against me”; “People will judge me and lose respect for me”; and “I will no longer be able to protect myself from people who want to undermine me.” In short, these pastors do not feel safe in their congregations. No amount of weight loss or exercise or talks with a wellness advocate will address this issue. What is needed is honest support for clergy from their denominations and from their congregations.
— Kate Rugani
Image courtesy of torbakhopper via Flicker/Creative Commons
This article is on target. What I hear from it is that if our congregations were healthier then our clergy would be healthier.
Thanks for your comment, John. I do think that is what the letter-writer was getting at. In our research, and in my own work with pastors as a Wellness Advocate, the relationship between the congregation’s health, and the pastor’s is certainly linked. That being said, even if a pastor is struggling in a difficult situation, and doesn’t feel supported by the congregation, there is much that he or she can still do to take control of their health, and it is that message that I try to offer as encouragement to the pastors I work with.