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

Study Leave at Duke Divinity School


As a wellness advocate, I chat with pastors daily.  And if I consistently hear longing in my pastors’ voices, it’s when the topic of study and reflection come up. The short of it is that it is hard to make time for study and reflection amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy church, where people and tasks are literally or metaphorically knocking on the door all day long. And yet, most pastors also recognize that time for study and reflection is crucial for gaining insight and cultivating growth in their own lives.

Did you know, though, that Duke Divinity School has a program to support that very discipline? It’s called Study Leave for Ministry Professionals. And Spirited Life participants can attend for practically nothing!

Here’s a succinct description of Study Leave from the program’s website:

Over the span of five days, participants can immerse themselves in learning and renewal through self-directed study, worship and prayer on the Duke University campus. This flexible program is designed for Christian institutional leaders, pastors, program staff, and laity, and can cost as little as $100. You select the study topic. We provide all the resources you’ll need to make your week as productive as possible.

Our Spirited Life staff recently met with Gretchen Ziegenhals and Marsá McNutt, who run this program at the Divinity School, and here was my takeaway:

You can spend five days at Duke Divinity School to study whatever you want with your meals basically covered and housing completely covered. It counts for Continuing Ed credit and you don’t have to have your study topic nailed down before you come; you just need a general idea and can even shift focus if something interesting comes up during the week. You can arrange to be there alone or coordinate time there with friends.

Spirited Life participants are eligible for a hefty scholarship to attend Study Leave because we think it can be an incredible opportunity for renewal.  You’re eligible for this scholarship starting in your second year of the wellness program (see the table below).  But even if you’re not eligible yet (or you’re not part of Spirited Life), Study Leave always offers scholarships for pastors serving rural churches eligible for grants from The Duke Endowment as well as a limited number of scholarships for non-rural WNCC clergy.

The scholarship cuts the program costs from $650 to $100 (and you get $75 of that back on a card to use for meals/books/gym access.)

If you have questions, feel free to contact your wellness advocate or the program’s coordinators listed on the Study Leave website. This could be just the respite you need.

-Joel Decker

Pastor spotlight: Lee Pittard


In an interview with North Carolina Health News’ Rose Hoban, Rev. Lee Pittard shared his journey toward wellness as a participant in Spirited Life.

Initially a skeptic, Lee signed up for Spirited Life because he thought it was expected of him.  But “when I actually saw that I was making progress and having a different attitude, I thought, ‘changing things is possible,’” he said.

One of Lee’s initial goals was to acknowledge his stress-eating patterns and form some new habits to help with weight loss.

Realizing the importance of community support, Lee made a request to his congregation that they stop feeding him so much.  “A lot of people would make a cake for me for my birthday in December,” he explained. “I told them this past year, ‘Don’t love me so much. Just tell me happy birthday, but no more cakes!’”

He also enlisted the help of a wellness advocate.  “Having a Spirited Life coach email me and check up on my progress has been really useful. One thing I need is someone to hold me accountable for exercising,” he said.

Lee began with walking as his main form of exercise; he now jogs 3-4 times each week. He chose running in part because it was an activity he could do with his son, who runs cross country for his high school.  In April, Lee achieved one of his health goals when he completed a 5K race, beating the time he had set for himself.

By late April, Lee had lost almost a hundred pounds, and his blood pressure is down.  “I’ve lost over 11 inches in my waist, and gone from an 18.5 neck shirt to a 16-16.5,” he said. “I can’t even wear my robe anymore; I trip over the extra material.”

Lee will graduate from Spirited Life at the end of 2012 and plans to continue working hard toward achieving his health goals. “Multiple times we get reports of pastors who have had heart attacks or strokes, and weight on top of stress plays a factor,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen to me.”

-Compiled by Kelli Christianson

Read the full North Carolina Health News article here.


Taking a break from Course of Study


This is my first summer living in Durham (my family moved here from New Hampshire last August for my husband to attend Divinity School), and one thing that I’ve noticed is that Duke is never a dull place!  In July, the Summer Course of Study is in full swing here, keeping pastors from all over the country quite busy with a full schedule of lectures, discussion and homework.

We at the Clergy Health Initiative thought it would be fun to provide a study break for the Spirited Life participants taking part in Course of Study.  And sure enough: hot coffee, healthy snacks and great conversation made for a wonderful time.

As a wellness advocate, I will say that I thoroughly enjoy my phone conversations with the pastors I work with, but nothing replaces the chance to catch up in person.  We enjoyed hearing about what the pastors are reading and discussing in their courses and the ups and downs of being away from their families and congregations for a month. (One pastor admitted to me that he thought his lay speakers were thrilled to have the chance to preach, but he didn’t think the congregation was quite as “thrilled”!)

The time also served as a great opportunity for our team to answer questions about the Spirited Life program.  A number of Group 3 pastors were there — these are participants who won’t begin our wellness program until 2013, so their contact with Spirited Life has been limited to health screenings and surveys.  It was great to talk with them about what they hope to get out of the program, and assure them that yes, their turn was coming!

All in all, it was a pleasant way to spend part of a (hot!) afternoon, and we owe a big thank you to all the pastors who stopped by!  My fellow staff members and I are pretty excited about our program, but it is always a blessing to be received with enthusiasm and generosity by the people we seek to serve.  The welcome that we have gotten from clergy across the state is truly one of the things that makes me feel lucky to be doing this work!

Summary and images by Caren Swanson

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)