Dear UUMA Member,
"Being a pastor is bad for your health." Thus begins an article in the Christian Century last month about the crisis in clergy health. The article articulates the health issues facing ministers and describes the Clergy Health Initiative, a program studying and teaching health and wholeness for North Carolina Methodist ministers. I enjoyed the article while finding it a sobering reminder of the toll ministry can take on our lives. One portion of the article was especially true in my experience: "The profession discourages them from making close friends. All of this translates, studies show, into clergy having higher than normal rates of obesity, arthritis, depression, heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and stress. But research also says that pastors' lives are rich in spiritual vitality and meaning. Pastors say they have a profound calling and are willing to sacrifice to fulfill it."
I'm not sure if ministers are unique in this paradox of loving their work and paying a high price for their devotion to their calling. I suspect some of these statistics would be similar for managers and CEOs who put work before everything else. At least I know I saw some of the same issues and challenges when I worked in the corporate world - in others and in myself. But for people who are in the wholeness business, of teaching, preaching and, hopefully, even practicing it, we might want to figure out how we can do a better job of modeling all forms of health - physical, spiritual and emotional.
How do we do it? We are in conversation with some of our UUA staff on what we can do to encourage and promote health and wholeness for ministers and all religious professionals. It seems we are a lot better talking about things like preaching, governance, the UUA or UUMA foibles than we are about obesity and depression. Maybe we shouldn't be. I'd love for us to create a program similar to what is being done for Methodist ministers in North Carolina. I wonder what we can do with and for each other to help us find the right balance from living our call and living long and healthy lives?
Last month I visited my 20th UUMA chapter. I now have visited every UUMA chapter in North America. What a blessed man I am! For the last three years my ministry has taken me to see hundreds of you and it has led me to read and study everything I can about ministers' formation, education, and well-being. I have heard stories of people thriving and loving their ministries, people who are fulfilling their calls in inspiring and transformation ways. I have also heard stories of people who have had their dreams and ideals crushed and are wondering how, or if, they can find joy and success in ministry. And we all know of people who have not been able to live up to the standards of our profession or whose health has suffered because of overwork.
I don't know the answers but I keep coming back to something that other studies have shown. The number one factor for a minister's success is that they regularly meet with a small group of colleagues who keep each other accountable. Last week I had our annual meeting with my peer review group. We have been meeting for over five years and spend three days each year visiting one of our ministry settings to give feedback, support and counsel to each other and the organization we serve.. This year it was my turn to receive this great gift. They met with the UUMA Board to offer their perspectives and they met with me. These colleagues have walked with me through thick and thin, told me hard things I needed to hear and loving things that I forget too easily. I hope you have such a group of people in your life.
The work of ministry, of saving the world and ourselves, is hard work. So is the work of staying healthy and fit. I, perhaps like you, probably do the first better than the second. Or at least I spend a lot more time trying. Being a pastor shouldn't be bad for your health. What can we do - together - to make sure it isn't?
UUMA Executive Director