Spirited Life: Selah

Spirited Life: Selah

In 2010, the Clergy Health Initiative created and launched the multi-year wellness and behavioral intervention program, Spirited Life™. Over 1,200 United Methodist clergy from across North Carolina participated in a wellness program whose components included coaching and wrap around support, mindful eating and exercise practices, wellness micro-grants, and opportunities for spiritual renewal. Grounded in the rich theological heritage of the United Methodist Church, clergy were reminded of the grace of incarnation–that God created humanity, called it very good, and charged it with work of stewardship which includes body, soul, mind, and strength. Throughout the Spirited Life™ Program, the Clergy Health Initiative collected comprehensive biometric and quantitative data from participating clergy and was incredibly proud to report clinically meaningful reductions in markers of metabolic syndrome.

What Spirited Life™ was not able to achieve, however, was a reduction in rates of depression and stress among clergy. The heightened rates of stress among clergy was of continued concern to the two North Carolina United Methodist Conferences as well as to Spirited Life’s original funder, The Duke Endowment. Invited to continue working for the sake of clergy health in North Carolina, the Clergy Health Initiative has spent the last 5 years gaining understanding of clergy flourishing and clergy burnout.

Spirited Life: Selah is the newest offering of the Duke Clergy Health Initiative and it is devoted entirely to the task of equipping clergy with the tools they need to manage and respond to the very real stresses of ministry in this changing and divided world. The program is grounded in Sanctification Theory, which proposes that when someone gives sacred meaning to something, as clergy do with the vocation of ministry, they will exert substantial time and energy to it, fiercely protect it, experience strong emotions around it, draw on it as a resource and experience desolation when it is lost.

Throughout 2020 and 2021, the Clergy Health Initiative will take up to 550 United Methodist clergy from across the state on a journey to evaluate three specific practices chosen for their ability to help clergy focus on working in alignment with God rather than measuring their success and worth by immediate outcomes, as well as notice and control their physiological responses to stressful stimuli throughout the day.

Spirited Life: Selah aims to help clergy live fully into ministry while decreasing stress symptoms. There is an abundance of existing programs to reduce stress, but people often don’t engage in them because they are too time consuming, don’t fit with one’s beliefs, or don’t fit into one’s day. The Clergy Health Initiative has engaged researchers and providers of commercially available programs and adapted them specifically for clergy. CHI has also contemplated whether some spiritual practices, whose important purpose is to promote a strong spirit, may have the added benefit of reducing stress symptoms.