Pastors’ concerns for others may harm their own health

Durham, North Carolina, United States—Most mem­bers of the clergy are taught to put the physical and spiritual needs of others first, but that self-denial may be harmful to their own health, according to a new Duke University study. Studies of United Methodist pastors in North Carolina found high rates of chronic disease and depression, and researchers worry it can be difficult to convince clergy to seek help.

To address these unique problems, Duke Divinity School’s Clergy Health Initiative developed a program to provide preventative care in a spiritual context. “Clergy recognize the importance of car­ing for themselves, but doing so takes a back seat to fulfilling their vocational responsibilities, which are tantamount to caring for an entire community,” said Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, the initiative’s research director and assistant research professor at the Duke Global Health Institute.

The institute’s research found the 40 percent obesity rate among North Carolina United Methodist clergy eclipsed the state average of 29 percent. Pastors also suffered high rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, arthritis, and hypertension. More than 10 percent showed symptoms of depression, about double the national rate. Despite these health issues, clergy were also more likely to say their health did not negatively affect their work.

Proeschold-Bell said stress, which is tied to overeating and weight gain, comes in many forms for clergy. Pastors’ schedules are unpredictable and filled with diverse activities, resulting in what Proeschold-Bell called “role over­load.” She also points to an internal pressure to live faithfully and support the community. “Pastors have lots of social ties, but the support goes only in one direction,” she said.

Initiative director Robin Swift pointed to the prevalence of food as clergy assume their hospitality roles, a factor leading to their high rates of obesity and associated health problems. “The community expects you to be grateful for their hospital­ity, and community happens a lot around meals,” Swift said.

A study by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America found similarly higher rates of physical and mental health problems in its clergy. [Religion News Service, Chris Lisee]

On ordination questions, Adventist leadership appeals for orderly process

Silver Spring, Maryland, United States—The world leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has issued an “appeal for unity” to regional admin­istrative units of the church that have either taken or are considering independent action regarding the ordination of women to gospel ministry. The request comes in a statement issued June 29, 2012, in response to actions by several union conferences.

The appeal was prepared and unanimously accepted by con­sensus of the General Conference officers, a group of 40 senior lead­ers of the church, including the 13 division presidents who also serve as vice presidents of the General Conference. It begins by noting the recent local actions and/or proposals as well as reminding both the union conferences and the church’s wider membership that the entire subject of ordination is under study by the worldwide Adventist family, with results due in 2014. Once those results are received, the General Conference Executive Committee, the highest interim authority between quinquennial international sessions of the church, will decide whether to make further recommendations on the ordination issue to the 60th General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas, United States, in July 2015.Some union conferences, key constituent elements of the church’s worldwide General Conference, have indicated either a willingness to ordain women or to take indepen­dent actions that would permit such ordinations in their territories. At present, the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not ordain women to ministry, following votes at General Conference sessions in 1990 and 1995 on the question, where the issue was a major focus of the inter­national delegation.

Until then, a move “to change or modify ordination practices is a global one and necessitates a decision from the world body,” the document stated.

“For any union to introduce a dif­ferent ministerial ordination practice is seen, by the rest of the Church, as

readiness to set aside a world Church decision and proceed in another direction,” Adventist leaders wrote. “Such actions, taken at the very time when the world Church is engaged in a study and discussion of the mat­ter, pre-empt the process and any decision that might come from it.”

The leaders pointed to the col­laborative approach to key decisions that has characterized Seventh-day Adventist polity since the church’s organization nearly 150 years ago in 1863: “The essence of unity in Seventh-day Adventist organiza­tional functioning is the mutual commitment of all organizations to collective decision-making in matters affecting the whole fam­ily—and the acceptance of those decisions as the authority of the Church. The action of any union in pursuing a different course of action represents a rejection of this key value in denominational life.”

At the same time, the appeal noted, “General Conference offi­cers welcome and invite unions to participate in the global study of ordi­nation. This study will be the most widespread and thorough study the Church has undertaken on this topic. Earlier studies have been conducted by commissions. This is the first time that a study of ministerial ordination engages the whole Church through the 13 divisions.”

The leaders acknowledge that the question of women’s ordination has been a topic of deep concern to many within the movement: “We realize that sharply differing convic­tions with respect to ministerial ordination for women exist in our global family. We also realize that the passage of time without finding satisfaction for the tensions on this question can give rise to frustration and the erosion of confidence that a timely and mutually satisfactory resolution can be found.”

However, the Adventist world leaders said they “earnestly appeal” to the unions involved to

1. “Operate in harmony” with the decisions of the worldwide church;

2. Avoid any independent action contrary to the decisions taken by the global body of the church in 1990 and 1995;

3. Communicate to their constitu­ents the implications of independent action for the health of the wider denomination;

4. Actively engage in the estab­lished global discussion about the practice of ordination slated to report in 2014 and 2015.

[Mark Kellner/ Adventist World]

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September 2012

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