Clergy Health Initiative



  • The Duke Endowment


  • Western North Carolina United Methodist Church Conferenc

Start Date:

End Date:

  • Ongoing

Clergy Health Initiative

This project has both intervention and research components. The research components include a prospective cohort longitudinal data set of United Methodist Church clergy health, which collected data in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2019, 2021, and 2023. A focus group study has also been conducted. Evaluation research has been conducted on all interventions from the Clergy Health Initiative. The project piloted in 2009-2010 an intervention that included health coaching, holistic medical exams and social support. We launched an improved 23-month holistic health intervention called Spirited Life in January 2011, with randomized cohorts participating in the intervention through 2014. Over 1,100 clergy enrolled; post-intervention data collection continued through spring 2016. We developed a church-level intervention to improve clergy mental health through support of the pastor's staff-parish relations committee. We received additional funds through June 2018 to enhance sustainability of the intervention components and disseminate project findings. In addition to writing a variety of communications, we conducted a new study of the positive mental health and well-being of clergy; we conducted 52 in-depth interviews in 2014 and additional follow-up interviews in 2015. In addition to writing journal articles, we have written a book that will be available through Baker Academic Publishing Group in Spring 2018.

The panel surveys achieved response rates of 95 percent (2008), 87 percent (2010), 81 percent (2012), 75 percent (2014), and 73 percent (2016). Initial findings include high rates of clergy obesity, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, arthritis and depression, in comparison to non-clergy peers. Seventy percent of invited clergy participated in the pilot intervention, which evidenced decreases in weight, blood pressure, and depression scores, and increases in moderate and vigorous exercise. Sixty-four percent of eligible clergy (n=1,114) enrolled in the two-year intervention Spirited Life, which was an RCT utilizing a multiple baseline design. Compared to the waiting control group, intervention participants experienced significantly greater improvements in metabolic syndrome. There were no significant improvements in stress or depressive symptoms. Preliminary analyses at 18 months after the removal of services suggest maintained health improvements in multiple cohorts.

The project has drawn attention from the North Carolina United Methodist Church Conferences to the physical, mental, and spiritual health needs of United Methodist clergy in North Carolina. They widely agree that the Clergy Health Initiative has led to a shift in culture of greater attention to clergy health. In the Western North Carolina Conference, the bishop changed policies to give pastors more time off when transitioning churches and has talked to churches via digital video discs about the need for pastor time off. We have had in-depth meetings with at least 6 other Christian denominations that are interested in improving the health of their clergy. Our church-based intervention, consisting of a DVD and workbook, has been ordered by churches in 18 different states and 20 United Methodist Conferences. We collaborated with the Unitarian Universalist Association on a clergy health intervention in 2014. There has also been great interest in our journal articles, including international requests from researchers in Canada, Austria, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland. Our study on the positive mental health of clergy led to interest in, and funding by The Duke Endowment for, evaluation of stress management and Sabbath-keeping programs.

Last updated on September 25, 2023