Clergy Health Survey report shows mixed results
GLENVIEW—The Center for Health of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits released the 2013 Clergy Health Survey Report on May 16 with results of its annual United Methodist Church clergy questionnaire identifying clergy health trends.
For this second annual survey, the Center for Health reached out to 4,000 UMC clergy—1,602 clergy responded (40 percent return) to the 100-question online survey, representing a cross-section of active UMC clergy by jurisdiction, gender, race/ethnicity, age and clergy type. Multiple dimensions of health (physical, emotional, social and spiritual) and the vocational setting were explored. The survey questionnaire is based on—and continues to build on—clergy health research conducted for the 2009-11 Church Systems Task Force (CSTF).
Clergy Health—Positive/Negative Aspects
Over the past two years of survey data, there has been a slight improvement in overall self-assessed health. Most respondents indicated high levels of spiritual vitality and spiritual well-being. With the exception of self-assessed health in the 2013 results, there was no improvement in any aspect of clergy health over the two- year period of the Clergy Health Survey.
2013 Key Findings
- 40 percent of respondents are obese and 39 percent are overweight—much higher percentages than a demographically-matched sample of U.S. adults
- Nearly 51 percent have high cholesterol, also much higher than comparable benchmarks
- 5 percent suffer from depression
- 26 percent of all clergy have at least some functional difficulty from depressive symptoms
- UMC clergy have high rates of borderline hypertension, borderline diabetes and asthma
- Hostility of the church environment was cited by 47% who experienced at least one intrusive demand (not consulted about ministry decision; devotion to ministry questioned; doubts about pastor’s faith)
Over the two-year survey period, the Center for Health sees multiple demographic differences emerging, among them:
- Men are at higher risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and lack of spiritual vitality
- Women are at higher risk for joint and muscle diseases, and more likely to experience occupational stress
- Female clergy report exercising less than their male counterparts
- Full members including elders are more at risk on spiritual health measures and occupational stress
- Part-time local pastors report the lowest levels of stress, hostility and dysfunction in their ministry and occupational settings
- Clergy at smaller churches have higher physical health risks, while those at larger churches have higher spiritual health and occupational stress risks
- Clergy who change appointments more frequently show higher levels of risk across several physical, emotional, spiritual and stress dimensions
- White/non-Hispanic clergy, especially white males, score lower on spiritual health measures
- African-American clergy have a higher risk for hypertension and for obesity, especially among females; they also have lower rates of depression and report lower occupational stress
- Asian clergy have lower risk on several health measures, including weight, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis and asthma
- Hispanic clergy have lower levels of asthma and depression
Healthy eating habits in work settings had been identified in the original CSTF research as a strong factor of clergy health. As in 2012, improvement in diet continues to be needed—nutrition was cited as key. Risks to health include obesity, high cholesterol, pre-hypertension and pre-diabetes. Depression is also a risk area. Contributing health factors (previously identified in CSTF research) may include the relationship with the congregation, stress of the appointment process, the lack of work/life balance, job satisfaction, and marital and family satisfaction.
Improving and sustaining clergy health requires the education and engagement of leaders at both the denominational and local church levels to promote healthy practices across multiple dimensions of health. Clergy and lay leaders can help improve overall clergy health by incorporating a health viewpoint when assessing clergy effectiveness and congregational vitality.
Clergy Health—Trends and Support
The Center for Health uses the results of the annual Clergy Health Survey in monitoring health trends and needs, as well as in developing programs and services to support UMC clergy in leading healthier lives—for themselves, their families, their congregations and communities. Results are also shared across the connection through webinars and at clergy events to continue to raise awareness of the impact individual clergy health has on the UMC mission, ministry and congregational vitality.