Beliefnet
The Deacon's Bench

282_SurfingPriest04.jpgCan I hear an “Amen!”?

The New York Times looks at some worrisome trends involving people who do the work of the Lord — and need a break:

The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.

Public health experts who have led the studies caution that there is no simple explanation of why so many members of a profession once associated with rosy-cheeked longevity have become so unhealthy and unhappy.

But while research continues, a growing number of health care experts and religious leaders have settled on one simple remedy that has long been a touchy subject with many clerics: taking more time off.

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

As cellphones and social media expose the clergy to new dimensions of stress, and as health care costs soar, some of the country’s largest religious denominations have begun wellness campaigns that preach the virtues of getting away. It has been described by some health experts as a sort of slow-food movement for the clerical soul.

In the United Methodist Church in recent months, some church administrators have been contacting ministers known to skip vacation to make sure they have scheduled their time, Ms. Proeschold-Bell said.

The church, the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, led the way with a 2006 directive that strongly urged ministers to take all the vacation they were entitled to — a practice then almost unheard of in some busy congregations.

“Time away can bring renewal,” the directive said, “and help prevent burnout.”

Read the rest right here.

Meantime, I can report that my vacation begins August 16. We’re going to the Maryland shore.  In two weeks.  Just fourteen days from now.  Not that I’m counting or anything…

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