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.

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?


IanD said...

I think everyone should make fitness a priority. I've put people on training programs over the years (including my dad) and all of them are amazed at how much better they feel once their goals are accomplished.

Not to toot the family horn here, but I have been most impressed with Dad. He picked up the dumbbells at sixty-five and the changes he's wrought are just outstanding. He even does his lifting from home. If someone in that age bracket can do it, then anyone can!

As for me, there can be too much of a good thing. I changed up my weight routine on Monday and spent Tuesday hobbling around like an invalid. It was open season on me too, as my class didn't stop making fun of me until at least lunch time.

Lynnof60 said...

So as I answer this from my bed this morning (opting NOT to walk because I was just too tired) perhaps I'm not the best person to respond. However, knowing that I can have an opinion without being an expert has spurred me on.
Everyone (unless they've been living under a rock) knows the benefit of physical fitness. However, I don't think having someone else take on the responsibility of another persons fitness is the answer. A person doesn't need to go to a gym or pay out big bucks to get physically fit. Walking/running is great exercise. As Ian says a few weights at home can do the trick. Well, I think I'll get out of bed now.

Anonymous said...

I have been working out with weights, walking, and paying attention to what I eat for over 20 years. (For those doing the math that means since my late twenties)Every now and then I fall off the wagon, and sometimes it has been hard to get back on again, but for the most part I have been consistent. I will never win a fitness contest,that's for sure; but I believe I have staved off some of the 'diseases' of older life, if not forever, then for a little longer than I would have otherwise. Kevin and I hope to retain our ability to hike through the forest and canoe on the lake for as long as possible.

roger said...

Exercise has always been a priority in my life. If I miss a few workouts, I really do feel the difference in how I feel. Plus, it is great for dealing with stress.

I think we, as a congregation, could chip in and get you a gym membership, David. Or maybe you could come to my squash club. All christianity goes out the window in the squash courts!

Yes, regular exercise is good for your heart. We all aorta know that by now.

Laura said...

Witty, Roger....I also am a lifer at exercise although I have to do it first thing in the morning or it doesn't generally happen. When the kids came along we opted for free and at home rather than a gym membership that takes us out. The treadmill has absorbed much stress, added energy to many a day and offered a good vantage point for movies to pass the time.
For sure in the ministry you need to be able to draw on your mind, body and spirit for strength, not only for yourself but others, and I think exercise helps all three.