The problem of clergy burnout

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Writing in The New York Times, Paul Vitello surveys the landscape of clergy life and finds that it is not a pretty picture:

The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.

Public health experts who have led the studies caution that there is no simple explanation of why so many members of a profession once associated with rosy-cheeked longevity have become so unhealthy and unhappy.

But while research continues, a growing number of health care experts and religious leaders have settled on one simple remedy that has long been a touchy subject with many clerics: taking more time off.

“We had a pastor in our study group who hadn’t taken a vacation in 18 years,” said Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, an assistant professor of health research at Duke University who directs one of the studies. “These people tend to be driven by a sense of a duty to God to answer every call for help from anybody, and they are virtually called upon all the time, 24/7.”

One initiative that seems to have borne some fruit in combatting burnout is the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program sponsored by the Lilly Foundation. The program aims to improve clergy health through participation in peer-tp-peer support groups. Seabury Western and Bexley Hall Seminaries are sponsoring an examination of the program’s successes this fall.

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Lee Alison
Guest
Lee Alison

Well, Josh, we do dig in the dirt. We dig in people's garbage (to be very polite here) that they dump on us because there is no one else around and we don't charge to listen for an hour. We get called in the middle of the night to bless a dying person and then sit with their family. Then we literally dig in the dirt to bury that person. We have to deal with perceptions like yours that all we do is get up on Sunday morning and 'do' two or three services and the rest of the week sit around eating bonbons.

If you are a priest in a parish with no other staff, you end up doing everything from shovelling snow to debugging furnaces to cleaning bathrooms to dealing with leaking roofs to doing all the administrative paperwork... oh yeah, and then there are hospital visits and the unknowns that get thrown your way.

I am sorry your rector is seemingly lazy but your brush paints broadly and negatively and tellingly. I'd suggest that you travel around and see other priests in action and realise that we are not all pampered.

Oh, and the bonus? Last year it was $50.

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Terry Pannell
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Terry Pannell

I'm not sure who Josh's rector is nor the validity of the opinion he has posted. The level of resentment expressed and the cavalier portrayal of all clergy as slackers is rather telling though. Josh's criticism of his rector does not invalidate the studies that consistently show a trend of diminishing health among clergy accross faith traditions.

As someone who spent the first 24 years doing "real work" in secular professions before being ordained, I can attest that being a parish priest is the hardest thing I have ever done.

Terry Pannell+

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Peter
Guest

Josh,

Your comments are spot on...I just received a $9 million bonus for last year, just like the CEO of Goldman Sachs...

Many of us enter the ministry primarily because of the time-off and the major monetary bonuses...

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Goldman Sachs CEO Blankfein gets stock-based $9 million bonus

Tomoeh Murakami Tse

Washington Post Staff Writer

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Goldman Sachs said Friday that its chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein, received a stock-based bonus of $9 million in 2009, ending weeks of speculation about how much the New York-based investment bank would dole out amid rising public anger over Wall Street pay.

The amount, although eye-popping by Main Street standards, is smaller than the stock-based bonuses his rivals received for 2009. On Friday, J.P. Morgan Chase said it would award $17 million to chief executive Jamie Dimon

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Peter Carey+

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Matthew Buterbaugh+
Guest
Matthew Buterbaugh+

I also get very weary of clergy who are "all sighs all the time". I also am aware that there are lazy clergy around. However, it seems like the raw data suggests that clergy are a lot more overworked than you imagine.

I'm actually kind of amazed that there are still people around who think clergy just sit around all day and do nothing. Follow me, or most clergypeople around for a week. I think you'd be surprised how much we do, and the variety of skills we have to use.

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Josh Thomas
Guest

Good grief. My rector is the laziest man in Christendom, who constantly complains about his workload. His sermons are All Sighs, All the Time.™

He wouldn't know a day's work if it him in the mouth. He thinks deanery meetings are chargeable. He takes more time off than the CEO of Goldman Sachs.

The real problem arises from M.Div.'s comparing themselves to dentists and doctors instead of Jesus Christ. NEWSFLASH: You are not a dentist.

Don't even enter this profession if your real goal is playing golf. Try being a cop, a laborer, a steelworker, a beautician; then maybe you'll know what real work is like.

I believe we need professional, well-educated clergy. But I also believe they should be forced to dig in the dirt before they're ordained.

They're the most pampered people on the planet, but I am sick of buying their diapers, their study times, their sabbaticals, their vacations, All Sighs, All the Time™.

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