About Kate Rugani

Kate is communications director for the Clergy Health Initiative. She holds an undergraduate degree in English and a master’s in integrated marketing communications and public relations. She has a background in both corporate and nonprofit communications and loves spreading the word about how organizations are helping real people. She enjoys hiking, trying new recipes, and hanging out with her husband and three kids.

Is ‘Just Do It’ Bad Advice?


clergy-at-spirited-life-workshopClergy generally have very few opportunities to focus on their own health and well-being, to take time away to reflect on how they are doing, or to simply participate in a worship service without leading it. But in each of the past three years, the Duke Clergy Health Initiative has given them that opportunity. From January to March we have hosted a series of three-day workshops across North Carolina for clergy entering our Spirited Life program.

Spirited Life workshops serve a dual purpose: to introduce clergy to the staff and the resources they will have access to over the coming two years of the program, and to give pastors the space to reflect on the current state of their health and the vision they have for it.

We recognize that pastors come to this gathering in different states of readiness for change – some arrive raring to go; others are more reticent. And even those who have identified a facet of their health that they wish to address may encounter challenges along the way. Nike might tell us to “JUST DO IT,” but making changes and sticking to them is much harder. So early on in the program, we share with clergy a model that James O. Prochaska of the University of Rhode Island and his colleagues developed to better understand how the process of change works.

Prochaska concluded that behavior change is something that happens in stages, and that it has an upwardly spiraling effect. The following graphic illustrates the various stages and how movement between those stages takes place.

  1. Pre-contemplation – No intention of changing behavior
  2. Contemplation – Aware that a problem exists, but no commitment to action
  3. Preparation – Intent upon taking action
  4. Action – Active modification of behavior
  5. Maintenance – Sustained change: new behavior replaces old; generally recognized as a habit sustained for six months or more
  6. Relapse – Fall back into old patterns of behavior

What this model tells us is that relapse – falling away from one’s goals – is an expected part of the change cycle. It is not synonymous with failure, provided we use the experience as an opportunity to learn. By examining the situation – What triggered the relapse? What was going well beforehand? What caused me to break from that practice? – we become better prepared to resist the same temptations and distractions the next time we arrive at a place of sustained behavior change. Moreover, we don’t return to point zero after a relapse. The awareness of the goal already exists; therefore, we start further along the change cycle, with the benefit of additional strength and wisdom.

Equally important: it’s not necessary to tackle every goal at once. Someone who is actively engaging in more physical activity (Action Stage) may only be thinking about seeking help for depression (Contemplation Stage). Spirited Life provides clergy with a safe space to air the challenges they face at each stage of the process, and offers staff who are trained to listen and encourage. To learn more, visit our website.

— Kate Rugani

Image by Caren Swanson; stages of change diagram courtesy of Fitnessnewspaper.com

Sleeping for gratitude


Please see the note at the end of Monday’s post for our giveaway winner, and don’t forget to check back next Monday for our next giveaway!

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The following post is offered by Spirited Life wellness advocate Lisa MacKenzie.

Remember when sleep came easily? Maybe you remember the smell of the cool sheets fresh off the clothesline and the night sounds through the open window near your bed, a soft breeze lulling you into a peaceful rest or the soft breathing of your cat at the foot of the bed.


Sometimes it’s not that easy. Sometimes we find ourselves falling into bed feeling stressed, overworked and over-stimulated and just not able to settle down. Poor sleep patterns catch up with us and can affect body, mind and spirit. New research points to the fact that poor sleep can also impact our relationships with people around us.

An interesting study out of the University of California at Berkeley contends that good sleep fosters psychological well-being and even gratitude. “In the past, research has shown that gratitude promotes good sleep, but our research looks at the link in the other direction and, to our knowledge, is the first to show that everyday experiences of poor sleep are negatively associated with gratitude toward others — an important emotion that helps form and maintain close social bonds,” says Amie Gordon, co-author of the study. She goes on to say that “Poor sleep is not just experienced in isolation. Instead, it influences our interactions with others, such as our ability to be grateful, a vital social emotion.”

WOne resource that promotes both gratitude and a peaceful night’s sleep is the Three Blessings exercise from Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness. Every night for the next week, right before you go to bed, write down three things that went really well during the day. These things can be small and ordinary in importance. As your list grows over the course of the week, think about why these good things happened, and you may find that you’ll rest better.

The following tips from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine might also help you get the sleep you need:

  1. Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy. If you are not sleepy at bedtime, then do something else. Read a book, listen to soft music or browse through a magazine. Find something relaxing, but not stimulating, to take your mind off of worries about sleep. This will relax your body and distract your mind.
  2. If you are not asleep after 20 minutes, then get out of the bed. Find something else to do that will make you feel relaxed. If you can, do this in another room. Your bedroom should be where you go to sleep. It is not a place to go when you are bored. Once you feel sleepy again, go back to bed.
  3. Begin rituals that help you relax each night before bed. This can include such things as a warm bath, light snack or a few minutes of reading.
  4. Get up at the same time every morning. Do this even on weekends and holidays.
  5. Get a full night’s sleep on a regular basis. Get enough sleep so that you feel well-rested nearly every day.
  6. Avoid taking naps if you can. If you must take a nap, try to keep it short (less than one hour). Never take a nap after 3 p.m.
  7. Keep a regular schedule. Regular times for meals, medications, chores, and other activities help keep the inner body clock running smoothly.
  8. Don’t read, write, eat, watch TV, talk on the phone, or play cards in bed.
  9. Do not have any caffeine after lunch.
  10. Do not have a beer, a glass of wine, or any other alcohol within six hours of your bedtime.
  11. Do not have a cigarette or any other source of nicotine before bedtime.
  12. Do not go to bed hungry, but don’t eat a big meal near bedtime either.
  13. Avoid any tough exercise within six hours of your bedtime. You should exercise on a regular basis, but do it earlier in the day.
  14. Avoid sleeping pills, or use them cautiously. Most doctors do not prescribe sleeping pills for periods of more than three weeks. Do not drink alcohol while taking sleeping pills.
  15. Try to get rid of or deal with things that make you worry.  If you are unable to do this, then find a time during the day to get all of your worries out of your system. Your bed is a place to rest, not a place to worry.
  16. Make your bedroom quiet, dark, and a little bit cool. An easy way to remember this: it should remind you of a cave.

Sleep well!

–Lisa MacKenzie

Images used with permission.



Sabbath space for Christian leaders


The following is a guest post by Dayna Olson-Getty of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School:

We all know that conflict can take a heavy toll on our physical and emotional well-being. When our calling to embody the gospel leads us to intentionally enter into deep and long-standing conflicts within a congregation, denomination or organization, or to seek to bridge divisions in our communities for the sake of working for justice and peace, the toll can be even higher. A safe space to rest, receive, and be renewed among like-minded peers can provide a powerful antidote to the stress and isolation that this work often brings.

summer-institute_450x300The Duke Divinity School Summer Institute is designed to be just such a space, and we encourage you to join us for it May 27 – June 1.

Our goal is to empower and sustain those whose ministry takes them into difficult spaces and relationships for the sake of leading the church towards more fully embodying God’s kingdom. We provide Sabbath space for deepening and renewing the Christian leaders whose work involves reconciliation, social justice, and peace-building.

We’ve designed the Summer Institute to be a space for clergy and other Christian leaders to develop new friendships with like-minded peers and mentors in the context of a diverse community (our participants come from a wide range of denominations, ministry contexts, and roles).

We begin and end each day with a worship service that is crafted to nurture, challenge, and sustain weary leaders. Throughout the week, theological teaching and reflection from world-class theologians is woven together with inspiring and challenging examples of vibrant Christian leadership in difficult contexts. The result is a framework for personal and communal transformation that leaders can use in a wide range of contexts.

For many pastors, Summer Institute has been tremendously rejuvenating.

Chip Edens, rector of the 5,000 member Christ Episcopal Church in Charlotte, attended the Institute in 2009.

The Institute offered me the most important continuing education experience I have had in my 15 years of ministry. The combination of outstanding lectures from experienced leaders, the conversations I had with a very diverse group of individuals, and the extraordinary worship all challenged me and renewed my determination and hope in the work of reconciliation and justice in my own community. I thank God for the experience.

Gene Graham, a lay-leader from St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, attended in 2009 and 2010. She characterized her experience as a week of learning and inspiration.

The leadership was outstanding. The participants represented a world-wide network deeply committed to a myriad of reconciliation initiatives.  I left the Institute awakened to the hope and the pain of the reconciliation journey and armed with stories, contacts, and resources to enrich my church’s commitment to the Beloved Community.

Graham has since helped to found reVision, a program that provides a place for youth in crisis in Southwest Houston to disengage from their gang culture, develop a strong peer group of new friends and take control of their futures.

Summer Institute participants spend their afternoons in small interactive seminars that focus on a particular topic and provide opportunities to address their own strategic and pressing concerns and questions. This year’s Institute seminars include:

  • Living in the Tension: Human Sexuality in the Time between the Times with Andrew Marin and Tracy Merrick
  • Shaping Congregations for Faithfulness across Divides with Curtiss DeYoung and Cheryl Sanders
  • Building Beloved Communities of Justice and Advocacy with the Poor with Mary Nelson
  • Everyday Practices for Reconciliation Where You Are with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
  • Introduction to Reconciliation with Edgardo Colón-Emeric
  • Listening Together: Muslims and Christians Reading Scripture with Ellen Davis and Abdullah Antepli
  • Transforming Academic Institutions for Reconciliation with Peter Cha
  • Pursuing Reconciliation Institutionally with Chris Rice and Abi Riak

I encourage you to consider joining us this summer. The “Shaping Congregations” seminar — which focuses on diversity as an increasing, unavoidable and defining force within many congregations — could be particularly insightful for pastors serving churches at all stages of readiness for change.

More information about the program is available on our website: www.dukesummerinstitute.com. We’ll be accepting applications until April 30, and we do have scholarship funds for those who need them.

Being yourself in ministry


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.

Heather Kirk-Davidoff
Columbia, Md.

— Kate Rugani

Image courtesy of torbakhopper via Flicker/Creative Commons


A friend who cares


Today, a quote from Henri J.M. Nouwen’s The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey:

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

Which person in your life means the most to you?  Take a few moments today to lift them up in prayer.

–Kate Rugani

Spirited Life video


We’re excited to introduce our new Spirited Life video, featuring pastors Eldrick Davis, Alexis Coleman, and Bob Kretzu.

Each of them was kind enough to let us spend a day with them and learn about their life in ministry and their experience in Spirited Life.  Their stories vary widely — they’ve tackled grief, stress, questions of vocational call, and weight loss (as of last July, Eldrick had lost 101 pounds(!), sustained in part by the support of his congregation.)  Their stories are both real and representative of many we’ve heard throughout Spirited Life, and we’re thankful they were willing to share them so openly.

Please share the video and help us spread the word about Spirited Life.

Kate Rugani

Spreading the word


We’re now two years into the Spirited Life program, and indications are good that it is making a difference for many clergy.  We still have a long way to go — our third group of pastors is just about to begin the two-year wellness program.  But the outcomes are looking good, so we’re stepping up our efforts to spread the word about our holistic approach to the complex issue of clergy health.

Christian Century - Fit for MinistryThis week’s cover story in The Christian Century, “Fit for Ministry: Addressing the Crisis in Clergy Health,” is a big step forward.  Kudos to Amy Frykholm for her excellent work in summarizing the many different facets of our program.

I’ve been watching with interest the comments readers have shared…their reactions to our findings and the hypotheses our staff have voiced as to what’s driving them.  These readers make it clear that the stresses and strains of ministry extend far beyond the borders of North Carolina, and that there’s a dire need for attention to be paid to the health of pastors.

We hope you’ll take a moment to share the article with other pastors and those who care about them.

Kate Rugani

Safe journaling


Today, a guest post by Robin Swift, the Duke Clergy Health Initiative’s health programs director:

I have been able to keep a journal only sporadically in my lifetime.  I gave up altogether when I married, after my husband confessed that he loved to open medicine cabinets at homes where he was a guest just to see what people were keeping in them.  Somehow this knowledge did not fill me with confidence that my journal entries would remain secret forever.

Journaling is a wonderful technique for finding out how your mind, heart, gut, and soul really feel about what’s happening in your life.  Journals can be a form of therapy that keeps you connected to your whole self in your ongoing work of formation.  So I was delighted today when a friend shared a new technique for safe journaling: write all you want, read it to make sure you’ve “got it,” then shred the paper.  Or, if you are journaling on a computer or tablet, delete the entry immediately when you’re done.  You have to give up the wonderful development-over-time sensibility that journaling can offer, but you gain the security that your thoughts will never be shared.

I was further delighted to hear of a perfect revenge developed by a clergy spouse who was tired of having people peer in her family’s medicine cabinet during parsonage open houses.

She filled the cabinet with ping-pong balls.

Yours in mischief,

Robin Swift

(Photo by Flickr user JoelMontes via Creative Commons)

Taking time for yourself


This week, Duke Today published a story that outlines many of the Clergy Health Initiative’s research findings and underscores how important it is that any health intervention designed for clergy (like Spirited Life) truly be designed for clergy.  That is, programs need to take into account the many factors that shape how clergy spend their days.

One of those factors is the expectation (whether real or perceived) that pastors place others’ needs before their own.

Our belief — and it’s one that we stress regularly with our Spirited Life participants — is that while it’s not always easy, taking time for oneself is essential.  For if, as pastors, you’re not healthy in body, soul and mind, you may struggle to share the grace you have received with those to whom you have been sent.

That is, in part, what this blog is all about — providing ideas and strategies that you can use to find time for yourself.  But we also want to learn from you.

Do you feel pressure to put others’ needs first?  What strategies (however small) have you employed to make time for yourself?

— Kate Rugani

(Photo of Rev. Veranita Alvord by Donn Young)