August 28, 2013

Clergy Health Study Results

A lay person came across this article about clergy health. While this isn't really news to many of us, it was to our laity, who are now more determined to help carry the ministries of the church. Here is the article:

The demands placed on clergy by themselves and others put pastors at far greater risk for depression than individuals with other occupations, a new study by the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke Divinity School has found.

The study, published this week in the Journal of Primary Prevention, compared the mental health of 95 percent of the United Methodist clergy in North Carolina (1,726 pastors) to a representative sample of Americans and identified key factors that predict depression and anxiety. Clergy participants were predominantly male (75 percent) and white (91 percent); the mean age was 52 years old. 

The study, conducted in 2008, found the depression rate among clergy to be 8.7 percent when responses were limited to telephone interviews that closely approximated the conditions of a national survey (the 2005-06 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey).  However, among clergy taking the survey via web or paper, the rate of depression was even higher: 11.1 percent—double the then national rate of 5.5 percent.

Anxiety rates among clergy were 13.5 percent (no comparable U.S. rate was available). More than 7 percent of clergy simultaneously experienced depression and anxiety. 

A number of factors were found to be powerful predictors of depression and anxiety, most notably job stress. Clergy engage in many stressful activities, including grief counseling, navigating the competing demands of congregants, and delivering a weekly sermon that opens them up to criticism. The strain of these roles is further amplified by having to switch rapidly between them, which other studies have shown to exacerbate stressful experiences. 

Furthermore, the study found that pastors’ sense of guilt about not doing enough at work was a top predictor of depression, and that doubt of their call to ministry was a top predictor of anxiety.  Pastors with less social support—those who reported feeling socially isolated—were at higher risk for depression. 

By contrast, pastors reporting greater satisfaction with their ministry were half as likely to qualify for depression or anxiety. 

“Pastors may have created a life for themselves that is so strongly intertwined with their ministry, that their emotional health is dependent on the state of their ministry,” said Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, the Clergy Health Initiative’s research director, and assistant research professor at the Duke Global Health Institute. “So it’s possible that when pastors feel their ministry is going well, they experience positive emotions potent enough to buffer them from mental distress. Of course, the converse is also true.”

The rates reflected in this survey represent the percentage of individuals who reported symptoms of depression and anxiety over the previous two weeks only. It is probable that a far higher percentage of clergy experience depression or anxiety at some point during a lifetime spent in ministry, Proeschold-Bell said.

“It’s common for public health professionals to ask pastors to offer health programming to their congregants,” said Proeschold-Bell.  “These findings tell us that we need to reverse course and consider how to attend to the mental health of pastors themselves.”

While pastors can proactively take steps to bolster their mental health—by taking vacation and Sabbath time, fostering friendships outside the church, and seeking counseling—there are many ways for others to support these efforts, too, Proeschold-Bell said. 

Seminaries can train their students to anticipate competing demands on their time and negotiate conflict. Denominational officials can praise clergy for their efforts, particularly when those pastors are serving churches roiled in conflict. And congregants can support their pastors by volunteering for tasks and following through on commitments, letting pastors know when they are moved by their work, and making it possible for pastors to take time away from the church.
The research is part of a longitudinal study conducted in 2008, 2010 and 2012; it is scheduled to continue in 2014 and 2016. The 2010 data yielded no significant changes to depression and anxiety rates found in the 2008 data.  The data from 2012 is still being studied. Additional information about the Clergy Health Initiative and its research is available online at

The initiative is funded by The Duke Endowment, a private foundation based in Charlotte, N.C., that strengthens communities in North Carolina and South Carolina by nurturing children, promoting health, educating minds and enriching spirits. Since its founding in 1924, it has distributed more than $3 billion in grants. The Endowment shares a name with Duke University and Duke Energy, but all are separate organizations.

Simple and Kind Gestures of Hospitality

A few years ago, a group of clergy spouse friends who live within a twenty mile radius of each other decided to form a book group. We meet monthly for dinner and discussion--our August meeting was earlier this week.
One spouse, whose husband received a new appointment in July said to me, 'I've had something happen to me at this new church that I've never experienced."
I was really curious and replied, "What happened?"
She replied, "Every Sunday someone in the church (about 900 in the congregation) comes and sits with me. I like that gesture so much."
I remember a few anxieties during those first few Sundays in a new church. One was that I would sit in 'someone's pew' (we know how people are about 'their pew'). Another was sitting by myself. Gradually, as I got to know people, I sat with someone, however, I never had anyone come, and ask to join me.
My friend appreciated this simple gesture which conveyed welcome, hospitality, and great kindness.  
What other ways have churches conveyed welcome and hospitality during those early months of a new appointment?
Jacquie Reed
Fishers, Indiana

August 26, 2013

Happy Monday, Need some good humor to begin your week? Check out this clip about Wrong Worship.

We've all seen it. And it's all too true.

Grace and Peace,

August 23, 2013

The Ministry of the Minister's Spouse

In distant days past, a pastor's spouse could take a course about how to minister as a spouse. The wife (as it was then) was seen as a vital partner and was expected to be a leader in the congregation. This role and responsibility was not taken lightly. And as a result, even today, being a spouse carries certain expectations about an active participation in the church ministry and outreach. While no one raises an eyebrow when Pat Doe isn't there on Sunday, if the pastor's spouse is not at church, you can bet that you will be a topic of after-church dinner conversation.

But despite changes in the church, we spouses are called to be ministers like everybody else in the congregation. We are all called to faithfully serve when we are baptized and become part of the priesthood of all believers. Many of us are laypeople and some of us are clergy; but we are all part of the local congregation.

So just putting up with a spouse who is always on call, really isn't enough to count as your ministry. Although I believe it should count a lot. As Christians, we are gifted and blessed with the Fruit of the Spirit. And when we stand before our Maker, we'll be asked to show our fruit. True, grace abounds and no one can earn their way into heaven, but I think God will be pleased with some of us more than others.

As the new school year begins and people head back to church, I hope you find new ways to serve. This coming Sunday, I'm doing some teacher training and I'm back teaching my Sunday School class again. I don't do these things because they are expected or because I have to. I do them because I'm called-- just like you too.

Grace, Kathy

August 15, 2013

How to Respond When Someone Gossips

As a minister's spouse, many of us hear more than our share of criticism, perhaps not about us, but about the church in general and sometimes about other pastors. This can be especially difficult if your "friend" goes to another church and confides their criticism to you about their pastor in their church. I've even had people say to me something like, "I can't wait for our pastor to leave, so your husband can come to our church." And I've had people say to me, "Since you know So-and-so personally, maybe you can pass this along to them."

Looking at these situations objectively, the person is trying to triangulate you into their situation. And you can be sure that if they confide something like this to you, they'll also talk about you behind your back.

The best thing to do is simply listen. You can empathize with their feelings without agreeing or disagreeing with them. I promise you, you don't want to get involve, no matter how tempted you might be. Short of some kind of abuse, your best course of action is to tell the person that if she has a problem with the pastor, talk directly to him or her. What the person is doing, perhaps unwittingly, is spreading gossip. And we all know what can happen and how gossip can destroy people's lives, reputations, and ministries.

I've even had folks tell me what they've said to the DS about their pastor--and not in a good way.

Believe it or not, people may see you as part of the pastoral team or at least, a kind of influencer. After all, you do have direct access to the congregational leader--the pastor.

As the Bible advises: Be as wise as a serpent and a gentle as a dove.

Grace, Kathy

August 9, 2013

What do we tell the children about death and dying?

Many of us have had to explain death and dying to a child. If we are fortunate, the first time might be when the goldfish dies. But, as recently happened at our church, we have to talk about why their friend's daddy died. Face it, clergy kids are around death a lot. Here is a new book that will help.

What Do We Tell the Children? Talking to Kids about Death and Dying
(ISBN 978-1-4267-6049-5)

 One out of seven children will lose a parent before they are 20. The statistics are sobering, but they also call for preparedness. However, adults are often at a loss when dealing with a grieving child. Talking to adults about death and grief is difficult; it's all the more challenging to talk to children and teens. The stakes are high: grieving children are high-risk for substance abuse, promiscuity, depression, isolation, and suicide. Yet, despite this, most of these kids grow-up to be normal or exceptional adults. But their chance to become healthy adults increases with the support of a loving community. Supporting grieving children requires open-communication and patience. Rather than avoid all conversations on death or pretend like it never happened, normalizing grief and offering support requires us to be in-tune with kids through dialogue as they grapple with questions of “how” and “why.” When listening to children in grief, we often have to embrace the mystery, offer love and compassion, and stick with the basics.

Author: Joseph M. Primo is Executive Director of Good Grief, Inc. in Morristown and Princeton, New Jersey, and President of The National Alliance for Grieving Children. A graduate of Yale Divinity School and a former hospice chaplain, Primo is an author and blogger for the New Jersey Star-Ledger. He has appeared on CNN and FOX as a grief advocate.

"The stories Primo tells are compelling and filled with many teachable moments about life and death. The book is encouraging for parents and others fearful of "doing it wrong" or (scarier still!) "having already done it wrong!" A must read for anyone caring for the grieving."  
̶ Kate Braestrup, New York Times Best-Selling Author of Here If You Need Me

"This wonderfully sensitive book is full of illustrative stories and gentle wisdom."
 ̶ Kenneth J. Doka, The College of New Rochelle; Senior Consultant, The Hospice Foundation of America 

"As a practicing physician and teacher, I recommend What Do We Tell the Children?"
̶ Scott Long, Yale University School of Medicine and Physician at The Connecticut Hospice

"This book is about the power of love and about overcoming our own anxiety, so that we can offer grieving children our compassionate presence and steady support as they create meaning in their own way and at their own pace.   
̶ Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary."

"Joseph Primo’s book should be given to every military household who has lost someone."
̶ Michael Anthony, Iraq War veteran and author of Mass Casualties: A Young Medic’s True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor in Iraq 

August 2, 2013

Listening for the Plan

I'm a planner. Before I go to bed, I pick out my clothes for the next day. Before I go to the grocery, I have a good idea what I'm going to buy. In my job, I plan constantly. When my kids were at home, I confess, I planned for them too. So, maybe like you, I'm good at thinking things through and going on the offensive to actively engage the world. And I'm a pretty good listener --even did it professionally for a while. But what I'm not so good at is listening for God's plan for me.

It's hard for me to wait for God's still small voice. It makes me feel that I'm not really doing anything. On one level, I know that's not true, but I feel that way nonetheless. And I know that I would benefit if I stopped to listen for God. It's still hard.

How can we listen for God? How can we stop crowding out God's voice. We in the church can be especially good at doing things for God and not with God. Here are a couple of things that are helping me.

First, I'm reading the Bible more. As I read, I imagine that I is God's personal communication to me. What's God trying to say?

Second, sometimes, I just have to stop what I'm doing and pay attention to the beauty around me.

Third, I look at the people around me as reflections of God's glory. What is God trying to say through them about his plan for me?

Fourth, I find ways to reach out and serve others, expecting nothing in return.

What is God's plan for me today? It's to be open to see the deep needs of others and offer out loud) to pray for them.

Where is God leading you? What helps you listen for God's plan?

Grace, Kathy