Ministers urged to rest

NASHVILLE, Tenn.?Research indicates that members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at higher rates than most Americans, according to The New York Times.

Just in the past decade, the newspaper said, the clergy’s use of antidepressants has risen and their life expectancy has fallen. A simple solution, some say, is for ministers to take more time off.

“We had a pastor in our study group who hadn’t taken a vacation in 18 years,” Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, an assistant professor of health research at Duke University, told The Times. “These people tend to be driven by a sense of duty to God to answer every call for help from anybody, and they are virtually called upon all the time, 24/7.”

Cell phones and social media have added new levels of stress, The Times noted, and soaring health care costs have prompted some denominations to launch wellness campaigns urging ministers to get some rest.

“Time away can bring renewal and help prevent burnout,” a 2006 directive from the United Methodist Church said. Other denominations have placed a special emphasis on the importance of “Sabbath days,” weekdays off in place of Sundays.

The Rabbinical Assembly, an international association of conservative rabbis, now recommends three or four months off every three or four years.

“There is a deep concern about stress,” Rabbi Joel Meyers, a past executive vice president of the assembly told The Times. “Rabbis today are expected to be the CEO of the congregation and the spiritual guide, and never be out of town if somebody dies. And reply instantly to every e-mail.”

A pastor in Queens, N.Y., admitted that being too busy Is an impediment to one’s relationship with God, and clergy health studies say ministers have boundary issues defined as being too easily overtaken by the urgency of other people’s needs, The Times said Aug. 1.

“Larger social trends, like the aging and shrinking of congregations, the dwindling availability of volunteers in the era of two-income households, and the likelihood that a male pastor’s wife has a career of her own also spur some ministers to push themselves past their limits,” The Times said.

A seven-year study by Duke University examined more than 1,700 Methodist ministers in North Carolina and found that compared with neighbors in their census tracts, the ministers reported significantly higher rates of arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma. Obesity was 10 percent more prevalent in the clergy group, The Times said.

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