Thursday, November 15, 2012
Fit for Ministry
Huff, puff, enough already! I feel that way some mornings when I head to the gym, and this Fall it has been harder to stay motivated. I still go, but I whine more, and I haven't gone as often. Even though we have been outdoorsy forever -- we cycle and hike and kayak -- I didn't start going to the gym until about a year before I left Halifax, so at age 47. I'm glad that I'm still going a decade later, especially since the big 60 isn't too far over the horizon. When I'm done my workout I usually feel energized and ready to roll. The prospect of going on these dark mornings is far worse than the actual exercise.
There is an article in a recent Christian Century magazine called Fit for Ministry: Addressing the Crisis in Clergy Health which speaks of research showing that clergy are heavier and in worse shape than the population at large -- no pun intended. We sit a lot, and eating is part of the job, and there is no one who holds us accountable for our health. Our rates of arthritis, depression, heart problems, high blood pressure, and diabetes are all higher than average. http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2012-10/fit-ministry
When I was ordained in 1980 I had to pass a physical, and there were obese candidates who were told that they better shape up or they wouldn't be allowed to ship out as ministers. That is no longer allowed under human rights legislation, but we may not be doing candidates a favour by not nudging them toward a healthy physical regimen. In the United Methodist denomination in the States there is a two-year program called Spirited Life with over 1,100 clergy enrolled, which helps ministers establish a balanced and healthy lifestyle. The participants are even given small grants for gym memberships.
I have to wonder why our United Church doesn't get on board with something like this. I once spoke to a moderator about a country-wide gym program as a way to address high levels of work-related stress and was met with polite indifference. A conference staff person responded to a similar conversation saying that congregations would balk at being asked for additional cash to get something like this going. Why, I wonder? As our ministers age, wouldn't programs for fitness be better than higher benefits premiums to pay for prescriptions and other health care? And wouldn't a minister who is balanced in body, mind, and spirit be a good example for congregants?
What do you think? Should clergy be encouraged to be physically fit? Should congregations take on a degree of responsibility? What about your own program of physical fitness?