The spring 2010 issue of Duke Divinity School’s Divinity Magazine contains an interesting report about clergy health (p. 4). Research from a United Methodist Church (UMC) Clergy Health Initiative suggests that UMC clergy in North Carolina suffer from more chronic diseases than the general population.
Statistics gathered in 2008, when 95 percent of United Methodist clergy participated in a health survey, were compared with statistics for people with similar characteristics. Researchers discovered that nearly 40 percent of UMC pastors aged 35-64 qualify as obese, a rate that’s 10 percent higher than other North Carolinians in the same demographic subset.
Not surprisingly, reports of diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, angina, and asthma were also significantly higher.
High rates of obesity and chronic disease among the clergy are not limited to Methodists, of course. I suspect that rates among Baptists would be even higher: the old jokes about Baptist preachers and their love affair with fried chicken are not without foundation.
As some friends and I who have history in both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship reflected on this story, however, we all agreed on a quite unscientific but unmistakable observation: participants at the CBF meetings we’ve attended tend to be slimmer, as a rule, than preachers at Southern Baptist meetings, where rotundity is more common. To their credit, however, the SBC’s LifeWay Resources and Guidestone Financial Resources entities have both made strong efforts to promote healthier lifestyles.
All of us who serve as clergy in one form or another would do well to remember that, as we express concern about others’ spiritual health, the state of our own physical condition is an integral part of our witness.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.