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Friday, December 7, 2007

Clergy Health Crisis- Wellness in the Pulpit

Pastors who spend time ministering to other peoples health and wellbeing are facing a health care crisis of their own. Some churches say clergy medical costs are rising so fast, it is straining their organizations budgets. According to Dr Halaas, project director of the Ministerial Health and Wellness Program, a major new initiative by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to improve the health of Lutheran pastors and other church leaders, "Basically, it's become a more difficult job with fewer rewards," says Halaas. "And all those things add to stress and take a toll on health."

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, "Officials of the Western North Carolina Conference have faced such a tough time with rising health-care costs for clergy members that the organization has struggled this year to reach acceptable contract terms with its health insurer. The conference spent $7.5-million in 2005 to meet the health-care costs of about 990 ministers and nearly 300 of their dependents, according to the group's treasurer, Bill Wyman. That number climbed to $8.7-million in 2006 and is expected to push past $10-million this year."

The same article reported 50 years ago the clergy lived longer, healthier lives than workers in most other professions. Now, according to a survey of more than 2,000 religious leaders conducted by Duke Divinity School's Pulpit and Pew research project 76 percent of clergy members were overweight or obese, compared with 61 percent of the general population. Forty percent reported that they sometimes experienced depression, while about 10 percent said they currently suffer from depression, comparable to the percentage of Americans over all who report the same.

Many religious organizations are taking a look at these disturbing trends and acting on them by implementing health promotion programs. The hope is that the trend trickles down to their congregations as well.

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