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Study shows greater commitment to clergy health needed

Study shows greater commitment to clergy health needed

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Study shows greater commitment to clergy health needed

Jan. 15, 2006 News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011  Orlando {0427}

An e-Review Feature
By John M. De Marco**

The conclusion of a wellness initiative to improve the health and fitness needs of one district's clergy mirrors the hypothesis made at the effort's inception: pastors must become more pro-active in the crucial area of life-ministry balance.

The Rev. Ginny Pearcy spent a year on the "In His Steps" study and health improvement program for clergy in the former Melbourne District, now part of the Atlantic Central District. The effort was modeled on a program in the Dakota Conference and received $2,000 in funding from the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of The United Methodist Church.

"I think it raised their (the district's clergy) level of awareness," Pearcy said, but added, "I don't think a huge percentage of them did anything about it. I think a lot of pastors ignore their own health care because they get so wrapped up in caring for others.

"It's a very stressful job. We don't take time for our own Sabbath rest. I'm hoping some of the younger pastors are starting out a little better."

Pearcy wears many hats in the Florida Conference. She is serving at Grace United Methodist Church, Merritt Island, as a probationary deacon, while working toward becoming ordained a deacon in full connection. She leads the conference's parish nurse ministry and Health and Wholeness Focused Task Team. She is also a clergy spouse. Her husband, the Rev. Bob Pearcy, is pastor at the church she serves.

Pearcy spoke before a gathering of the district's clergy in August 2004. She distributed free pedometers to encourage 30 minutes of walking each day, water bottles to emphasize the importance of adequate daily water intake and free blood pressure screenings to assess current levels of health. Attendees also received journals and praise and worship compact discs and were encouraged to report their progress to Pearcy on a regular basis.

Some of the results are encouraging. Pearcy's final written report notes that of the 30 clergy who participated in the program, 68 percent rated their health as good and 57 percent claimed to exercise regularly.

Taking the time for regular daily devotions was also included as part of the criteria for health and wellness. Pearcy reported that 11.8 percent of district clergy said devotions were a daily part of their self-care; 23.5 percent said they were not.

During the months that followed Pearcy's presentation to the clergy, numerous pastors e-mailed her on a regular basis to share their progress, with some reporting weight loss and improved diet. Others said the stress of the hurricanes that hit right after the initiative's kick-off was a barrier to effective physical activity and healthy eating.

Pearcy had also hoped the initiative would help lower insurance claims and premiums through better health and result in increased clergy productivity and healthier family life.

MELBOURNE — The Rev. Ginny Pearcy (left) gives the Rev. Ted Wood a certificate for a two-night stay for two at a local hotel after Wood was declared the winner of the clergy wellness initiative for the former Melbourne Distrtict. Wood lost 25 pounds and lowered his cholesterol and blood pressure. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Ginny Pearcy, Photo #06-296. Web photo only. 

The Rev. Ted Wood, pastor of Rockledge United Methodist Church in Brevard County, was declared the winner of the wellness initiative. Wood reported losing 25 pounds and lowering his cholesterol and blood pressure. He received a dinner for two and two nights stay at a local hotel as an award.

"Things are going much better for me health-wise, and I attribute a lot of that to you for getting me thinking about a healthy lifestyle and not just another diet," Wood said in an e-mail message to Pearcy. "Be encouraged because your work has helped me."

Pearcy's final report also cited positive results from three other pastors: the Rev. John Denmark was able to lower his weight and blood pressure medicine, the Rev. Dan Parish lost significant weight and the Rev. David McGaffic lost weight and increased his activity.

Overall, 20 percent of participants said they "strongly agreed" they had lost weight during the initiative, 53 percent said they "somewhat agreed" they had lost some and 27 percent "strongly disagreed" that they had lost weight. A total of 45 percent said they were able to reduce the number of medications they take, while 22.5 percent said they were not.

All 30 participants expressed appreciation for the initiative, but Pearcy cited three major flaws in the health and wellness study and effort itself, including the impact of the 2004 hurricanes, lack of follow-up and lack of addressing concerns raised during a health audit of clergy that took place at the August 2004 meeting.

Pearcy has also organized health fairs during recent annual sessions of the Florida Conference. Free blood pressure screenings at the 2003 annual conference resulted in three pastors being advised to head straight to the emergency room for treatment.

Pearcy said she and her husband launched their ministry career in 1976 and at that time no one was talking about clergy health and wellness. Thirty years later she believes the pastor's emotional and physical condition remains an afterthought and both congregation and pastor are guilty of the complacency.

"The church tells you to take care of yourself, but they want you there if something happens to them. They say it, but they don't really mean it," Pearcy said. "We could be much more effective if we took time for Sabbath rest, took better care of our relationships with our significant other people in our lives. We need to learn how to be self-differentiated and not buy into everybody's pathology."

She points pastors to a significant role model who took healthy strides to ensure good physical and emotional health: Jesus Christ. "Do we think we're better than God?" she asked.


This article relates to Health and Wholeness.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.