- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2015

Potluck dinners and donuts at the Sunday coffee hour are not to blame. Over a third of America’s ministers and clergy are now considered obese because of demanding hours, lower pay and dwindling self care says a new study from Baylor University released Monday. Researchers based their conclusions on the responses of 539 clergy members from multiple denominations and religious traditions - to discover the complex challenges for those with a calling.

“The reasons for clergy obesity are not that simple. Clergy are in a relatively high-status occupation, yet many are compensated poorly compared to other professionals with similar education levels. Pastors may have no other option than to be bi-vocational,” the analysis said, noting that 10 percent of the pastors lead more than one congregation, while 15 percent are employed in a second job in another field.

Clergy have been among the healthiest of major professions, with only teachers having lower mortality rates, the study said. Questions to the participants were very specific - asking if they experienced stress “dealing with critical congregants” or opposition, if they felt lonely and isolated in their work, or worked over 46 hours per week

“Pastors are on, or on call at all times. The role or identity of a pastor is something you can’t just shut off, said lead researcher Todd Ferguson, a sociologist and a former Baptist pastor. “And you are in an organization that relies partly - or even fully - on volunteers rather than a paid staff, who can leave on a whim. Pastors are an integral part of the most intimate aspects of community life - marriages, deaths, births- and these often entail food. It’s part of the culture.”

The answer may lie in faith itself.

“In many religious traditions, the theology actually mandates at least one day a week to recuperate. Also, some pastors have the opportunity to be part of a small, intensive, introspective group of other pastors, and that can help with stress. There are structures in place that can actually help them cope and lower their chances of obesity,” Mr. Ferguson said.

The analysis found that 20 percent of the respondents had actually taken a sabbatical in the past decade, while 43 percent looked for help through a support group. The research was published in the journal Social Science Research, an academic journal.

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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