Clergy fitness declining

The Charlotte Observer reports:

Officials cite research showing that 50 years ago, clergy suffered fewer illnesses and lived healthier lives than workers in most other professions. Today, their medical claims and rising insurance costs strain denominational budgets.

The Western North Carolina Conference spent $7.5 million in 2005 on health care benefits for about 990 ministers. In 2006, that rose to $8.7 million, and is expected to soar past $10 million this year, said Bill Wyman, conference treasurer.

In recent years, Baptist, Lutheran and Episcopal leaders have also addressed the problem. The Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis-based foundation, runs a national clergy renewal program that gives ailing ministers sabbaticals.

About six years ago, a national survey of about 2,500 religious leaders showed that 76 percent of clergy were either overweight or obese, compared with 61 percent of the general population. Forty percent said they were depressed at times, or worn out “some or most of the time.”

Explanations for the problem vary. Some researchers note that the average age of Methodist clergy has gone up in recent decades. Those over age 55 jumped from 27 percent to 41 percent in the past 20 years, according to a national study.

Others trace the problems to the changing nature of the work itself. Better-educated, increasingly consumer-oriented parishioners are putting more demands on clergy, Mann said. Conflict is rising inside churches as parishioners do battle over who controls money and priorities.

“It’s almost the No. 1 reason now why most clergy leave a congregation,” he said. “So much of it is, `I just can’t keep dealing with these people fighting with each other over where the congregation is heading.’ “

Read it all here. It sounds as if our clergy don’t just need a better health, or a better plan for managing their own health. They need someone to address whether conflict within congregations and with denominations, and what to do about it.

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