Monday, February 1, 2016

Healthy Pastor, Healthy Congregation: Why I’m Taking Steps to be More Committed and Accountable

This Lenten season I’m encouraging our congregation to take steps toward better health, healing and wholeness in mind, body, emotions and relationships.  And I’m taking this call seriously for myself as a pastor.  I recently learned from Portico, the Benefit Service provider for the ELCA, the serious nature of the overall health of ELCA clergy and what the church is trying to do to change it. 

Clergy have such high instances of stress, weight problems, hypertension and heart problems that it is becoming a characteristic of the profession.

Our health costs as a group are 23% higher than other comparable groups.  And this is reflected in the skyrocketing costs of health benefits for congregations.  Clergy work inmore stressful environments. And our population has a higher incident rate ofchronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, kidney disease, and heartfailure.

One of the things the ELCA is asking clergy to do is to make lifestyle choices and changes that have tangible positive outcomes.  In response, this year I'm committed to being accountable to our Council and the congregation about the steps I'm taking to improve my health.  I will be including that information in my pastor's report, writing about it in my column for our newsletter, and designing a Lenten sermon series on "metanoia" - turning toward health and faith.  My hope is that this will model for our congregation taking positive steps toward better health for all of us, taking care of the temples of our bodies which God has entrusted to us. 

As I shared in a recent sermon, the Commandment that I break most often is the one about honoring the Sabbath.  Yes, I lead worship nearly every Sunday.  But I have not been taking a weekly day of rest for the last several months.  I am also not exercising as much as necessary.  Add to this the history of  heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure in my family history, as well as my own level of stress, and I realize that I could be a risk for the congregation and the church as a whole if I do not take steps to better care for myself.  So here are things I’m committed to doing in the coming year:

1. Sabbath:  Honor the day of rest once a week.  Usually this will be on Fridays.  On these days I will engage in the activities that strengthen my relationship with God, family and friends, and God’s Creation (taking walks, meditating, journaling, playing games with my kids, having “dates” with my husband, etc.).

2. Exercise: Add one additional day of high-energy exercise each week (in addition to my current practice of exercise once a week) and walking 20 minutes each day.
3. Nutrition:  Eliminate meat from my diet (I’ve committed to being a “pescatarian” - not eating meat, but allowing fish).  This is not only good for my health, but also for our planet’s well-being (see also,
 4. Accountability:  Being accountable to these commitments in my monthly reports to Council and asking for their prayerful support and encouragement.

I pray that God may give me the will and the willpower to take care of the temple of my mind, body and emotions that have been entrusted to me, as well as the relationships that are a reflection of the Divine Love that seeks to enfold me in grace.

And if you are inspired to take steps in improving your own health in mind, body, spirit and relationships, I welcome hearing from you.  Supporting each other on this journey together will help us all live into our calling to take good care of the bodies, minds and spirits God has entrusted to us.

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