Saturday, October 13, 2012

Clergy Wellness

If you believe the 2006 CREDO clergy wellness report, Episcopal clergy are in pretty good shape.  The report says,  "Although Episcopal clergy have reported many serious health risk factors, their general sense of well-being, confidence in undertaking new challenges, and commitment to their ministries are strong."

There are 6113 priests employed in the church and 646 of them completed the Mayo Clinic Health Risk Assessment and two other assessments in 2005 when they prepared to attend one of the Clergy Wellness conferences sponsored by the Church Pension Fund.  Perhaps this is an accurate sample to determine general clergy wellness, but then again it may not.

In an excellent summary of the report, ENS reporter Mary Frances Schjonberg reports that "stress poses an emotional health risk for 72.9 percent of Episcopal clergy," which is 16.7 percent higher for males "than that found in the population used for benchmark comparisons, and 13.3 percent higher for females.  In addition, 27 percent of females reported that they deal with depression and 15 percent of males.  Overall, clergy reports of depression exceed the benchmark population by 12.4 percent."  It is remarkable to me that female clergy depression is 12 percent higher than the men.  Perhaps men are more in denial, or is it that they are simply not more depressed.  It would be interesting to me, and hopefully interesting to women clergy, if CREDO would bring in an expert in women's health to dig a bit deeper and address the statistic.  On the male side, it would be interesting to know if there was a way to measure denial in the male clergy, if this is true.

However, Episcopal clergy fare much better on the depression scale than some other denominations.  70 percent of United Church of Christ pastors report that they fight depression on a regular basis and 1 in 5 pastors are in the advanced stage of burnout.  50 percent of the pastors surveyed are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if the could, but they have no other way to make a living.  Evangelical sources report that 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses are discouraged or are dealing with depression and the Southern Baptist Convention paid out $64 million in stress-related claims, second in dollar amounts only to maternity benefits.

According to Schjonberg's summary, "86 percent of Episcopal clergy reported that they were moderately to high confident about undertaking challenges and engaging effectively in their ministries.  Nearly a third reported the highest score in the 'meaningfulness in work' measurement.  Well-being measurements were also high (92 percent in religious well-being, 90 percent in existential well-being, and 79 percent in career/vocation satisfaction)."  In addition, Episcopal clergy are not as intent on leaving the ordained ministry as some others.  This is very good news when compared with the other denominations we have cited in this article.

If all this is true, my hunch is that Episcopal clergy are more likely than others to seek professional help when distressed, more likely to have a best friend or spiritual guide to help them through difficult times, and more apt to join a support group.  The report also indicates that our clergy are more intentional about taking pro-active steps to engage in positive wellness activities, while concentrating on positive outcomes rather than pathological diagnoses.

If you haven't read the report, you can find it by clicking on the report on CREDO's homepage.  As I mentioned before, ENS has an excellent summary.  Please take a look.  It doesn't take that long to check it out.

CREDO is supposed to take another wellness survey this year.  A lot has changed in the past six years.  More full time jobs are gone and many clergy are simply hanging on to what they have.  Bishops are filling small parishes with part time clergy and diocesan training academies are gradually replacing seminary education.  I wonder if a wellness survey taken this year will produce the same positive indicators as the 2006 survey did.  To this end I have created a poll on our blog where we can get your opinions.  Does the 2006 clergy wellness report accurately reflect clergy wellness today?  Take the poll.  Let us know what you think.


  1. Bob, thanks for opening up an important topic; rectors are the key resource in congregational life and their well-being is essential to the life of the church. Only one-third of those ordained priest will come close to a full time vocation (career) in the church; many will opt out, drop out, or flunk out. Most that do continue in parish life will be minimally compensated while expected to work miracles in under-resourced ministries. The 2006 Study may well be the high-water mark of wellness. How can rectors not be saddened trying to lead a Church in catastrophic decline?

  2. I agree with Goodthunder and I think a new study will show much more pain.

    It would be interesting to see how the bishops show in such a study. It seems "10 and out" is becoming much more common.

  3. I can't speak for anyone else, but when I voted no in your survey, I wished there was a "Hell no!" option. I have been trapped in this church for years now with no way out that will care for my family. This report only increases my sense of alienation from the church and my fellow clergy. Anyone who is experiencing that level of "well-being" is not serving the same God or the same church that I am.

  4. Dear Anonymous. Your comment indicates to me that you are really in a miserable place and that if possible, you would get out of parish ministry if you could get a job that would support you and your family. I believe you can get out if you think it through and plan well. There are skills you have now that readily translate into a job in the "outside" world...perhaps you just don't know it. First, buy Richard Nelson Bolles book, "What Color is Your Parachute." Then look for a career and life planning consultant to guide you the rest of the way. With the church is its present state, getting out of parish ministry is a noble endeavor and to be encouraged.