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CREDO report says individual wellness affects entire church

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
[Episcopal News Service]  Episcopal clergy have some serious health risks to address, according to a recently released report, but most are ready to take action to improve their health.

"Episcopal Clergy Wellness: A Report to the Church on the State of Clergy Wellness," developed for the CREDO Institute, shows that stress poses an emotional health risk for 72.9 percent of Episcopal clergy. That level 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 female reported that they deal with depression and 15 percent of males. Overall, clergy reports of depression exceed the benchmark population by 12.4 percent.

The report also shows that more than 24 percent of clergy were at risk for high cholesterol and 20.7 percent were at risk for high blood pressure.

The report compares the responses of 646 clergy who completed the Mayo Clinic Health Risk Assessment and other two assessments in 2005 as part of their preparation to attend one of the year's eight-day Clergy Reflection, Education, Discernment Opportunity (CREDO) conferences, provided to Church Pension Fund clergy participants. The Longitudinal Research Survey evaluates attitudes and beliefs. A financial practices questionnaire is also used.

"Although the 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," the report says.

Eighty-six percent of clergy reported they were moderately to highly confident about undertaking challenges and engaging effectively in their ministries, in a measurement known as "general self-efficacy." 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).

Despite reporting higher stress levels than the general population, the clergy sample reported high levels of the indicators that tend to lower one's intent to leave ordained ministry, the report says.

In addition, the report says that "Episcopal clergy are more 'action*
oriented' in their readiness to change their emotional health, exercise and nutrition habits, tobacco use, and weight, compared to a much larger benchmark sample from other organizations."

That stance means future assessments should show that the health risks of Episcopal clergy are diminishing, the report predicts. CREDO intends to conduct a similar survey every six years to "discover trends and suggest potential courses of action to improve overall clergy wellness."

The report says that individual wellness is important but that the report's "ultimate concern is for the vitality of the whole church."

"Healthy and well clergy will have broader systemic effects on the wellness of parishes and dioceses, and thus the Church as a whole," the report predicts.

The report says CREDO wants to share the knowledge that it has gathered as a means to:

  • marshal resources for the continuous improvement of clergy wellness,
  • foster an attitude toward wellness that dwells not on the pathological but the positive,
  • guide the Church into new understandings of wellness and its antecedents and consequences,
  • signal a new awareness about wellness that will permeate Church culture, and
  • celebrate victories and successes.

It recommends further steps for CREDO and the wider Church, including having a wellness summit conference within the 24 months after General Convention with collaboration of other Episcopal organizations.

It also recommends developing a variety of resources and programs, including

  • a process whereby seminarians could establish a "wellness baseline" of their personal stewardship in the vocational, spiritual, physical, emotional, educational, financial, and recreational aspects of their lives;
  • processes and resources for wellness discernment, assessment and evaluation for multiple levels, including parishes, dioceses, provinces and the wider Church;
  • an online Episcopal wellness hub, with links, self-assessments, and resources;
  • a best-practices guide for dioceses regarding wellness;
  • an accessible system of life coaching; and
  • a confidential depression and stress hot line.

Read the full report

The report was released during the 75th General Convention andResolution D033 affirmed the CREDO Institute's desire to address its recommendations "in a systemic and strategic manner in order to strengthen the ordained leadership of this Church."