How We Got Here

Between 2010 and 2014, the Duke Clergy Health Initiative designed and implemented a holistic health intervention for North Carolina United Methodist Clergy, specifically targeted symptoms of metabolic syndrome, depression, and stress and showed remarkable physical health outcomes. Markers of metabolic syndrome showed significant improvement throughout the intervention period and sustained for 18 months following the end of the intervention period. Our data did not indicate that generated anything greater than minor improvements in depression and stress symptoms nor were they sustained over time.

Consistent with national trends related to stress and burnout among those serving in professions who describe feeling “called” to their work, our continued work with North Carolina United Methodist clergy since the conclusion of Spirited Life suggested a need for a specific focus on stress reduction in this population. Our partners at The Duke Endowment indicated their interest in studying the acceptability, feasibility, and effectiveness of stress management tools with the goal of identifying stress management practices for clergy that are scalable for continued implementation in the North Carolina United Methodist conferences and beyond. In particular,the goal was to identify practices that would not interfere with pastors’ ability to give themselves fully to the Church by evaluating small practices that were practical for a life in ministry.

Believing that addressing and reducing stress and anxiety symptoms could also reduce secondary symptoms of mental distress such as depressive symptoms and burnout in clergy, the Spirited Life: Selah Stress Management Trial was conducted. Through the Selah study, we have worked to determine which of these practices were to clergy, based on their attendance and participation in the practices; and which of these practices would lead to in survey-based validated stress and anxiety symptoms measures and improvements in physiological responses to stress (measured by heart rate variability) as compared to a waitlist control group over a six-month period. Following a pilot program in 2018-19, The Spirited Life: Selah Stress Management Trial ran from 2019-2021.