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Occupational Distress and Health among a Sample of Christian Clergy

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Abstract

To examine the association between occupational distress, physical and mental health, and health behaviors among clergy, a convenience sample of full-time Christian clergy (N = 221) completed a questionnaire that included the Clergy Occupational Distress Index (CODI) as well as demographic, occupational, health, and behavioral variables. Descriptive statistics and regression analyses were used to analyze the data. Higher scores on the CODI were associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, more hours spent sitting per day, and more hours worked per week. Although years in ministry was not associated with scores on the CODI, a covariate in the model (age) did exhibit an inverse relationship with scores on the CODI. The present study provides support for the potential of occupational distress to negatively influence the health of full-time Christian clergy, especially those who are younger. Further research is needed to examine the temporal relationships among occupational distress, health, and health behaviors among full-time clergy. © 2018, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.
Occupational Distress and Health among a Sample
of Christian Clergy
Benjamin L. Webb
1
&Kirstie Chase
1
Published online: 6 October 2018
#Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018
Abstract
To examine the association between occupational distress, physical and mental health, and
health behaviors among clergy, a convenience sample of full-time Christian clergy (N=221)
completed a questionnaire that included the Clergy Occupational Distress Index (CODI) as
well as demographic, occupational, health, and behavioral variables. Descriptive statistics and
regression analyses were used to analyze the data. Higher scores on the CODI were associated
with high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, more hours
spent sitting per day, and more hours worked per week. Although years in ministry was not
associated with scores on the CODI, a covariate in the model (age) did exhibit an inverse
relationship with scores on the CODI. The present study provides support for the potential of
occupational distress to negatively influence the health of full-time Christian clergy, especially
those who are younger. Further research is needed to examine the temporal relationships
among occupational distress, health, and health behaviors among full-time clergy.
Keywords Clergy.Health .Stress .Occupational distress
Data from the U.S. Department of Labor ( 2017) indicate there are approximately 244,200
clergy employed in the United States. Among their many duties, clergy prepare and deliver
sermons, lead worship services, officiate weddings and funerals, visit sick and homebound
congregants, and provide counseling to congregants on a myriad of issues. It is clear that
clergy are integral to the operation of faith-based organizations (FBOs). The need to fulfill so
many duties within FBOs could lead to immense psychosocial stress for clergy.
Psychosocial stress can be defined as a perceived, nonphysical threat to an individual that
results in a disruption to homeostasis (i.e., stable conditions in the body) (Selye 2013). This
disruption is widely known as the stress response. The stress response is beneficial in preparing
the body to deal with a real or perceived threat, but a stress response that persists and/or
Pastoral Psychology (2019) 68:331343
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11089-018-0844-y
*Benjamin L. Webb
benjweb@siue.edu
1
Department of Applied Health, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Vadalabene Center, Suite
2616, Campus Box 1126, Edwardsville, IL 62026, USA
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... One possible explanation is that older clergy have learned to "make peace" with their job and have developed strategies for identifying the signals of impending burnout in order to take steps to avoid it . Similar results were found by Frick et al. (2015) and Webb and Chase (2019), who reported that older priests, who have to cope with fewer external stressors, have greater life satisfaction and better perceived self-efficacy. ...
... Some studies present a sample of Christian ministers, including Catholic priests, highlighting those aspects that all have in common. For instance, in a sample of 1,288 clergy from different Christian denominations (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Baptist) in the USA, the authors found strong correlations between high scores for occupational stress and high blood pressure (33.5%), high cholesterol (29%), type 2 diabetes (10.4%), heart disease (6.8%), lung disease (2.3%), arthritis (15.4%), chronic stress disorder (0.5%), hours worked per week (mean of 46.1 h) and a sedentary lifestyle (mean of 6 h sitting a day) (Webb & Chase, 2019). Other problems associated with work-related stress are: increased anxiety and depression among priests, isolation, sleep disorders, medical issues and feeling angry all the time (Greene et al., 2017;Webb & Chase, 2019). ...
... For instance, in a sample of 1,288 clergy from different Christian denominations (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Baptist) in the USA, the authors found strong correlations between high scores for occupational stress and high blood pressure (33.5%), high cholesterol (29%), type 2 diabetes (10.4%), heart disease (6.8%), lung disease (2.3%), arthritis (15.4%), chronic stress disorder (0.5%), hours worked per week (mean of 46.1 h) and a sedentary lifestyle (mean of 6 h sitting a day) (Webb & Chase, 2019). Other problems associated with work-related stress are: increased anxiety and depression among priests, isolation, sleep disorders, medical issues and feeling angry all the time (Greene et al., 2017;Webb & Chase, 2019). ...
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This study offers an exploratory review of the experience of stress and burnout syndrome among Catholic priests. Following Arksey and O’Malley's (Int J Soc Res Methodol 8(1):19–32, 2005, 10.1080/1364557032000119616 ) protocol, a scoping study was conducted. Given the scarcity of studies found on the subject, a broad selection criterion was used, which included quantitative, qualitative and mixed studies, literature reviews and comparative studies with other professions. The results reveal various risk factors: work overload among younger generations of priests, a sociocultural context that distrusts the clergy, neurotic, introverted, perfectionist and narcissistic personality styles, avoidant and complacent coping styles, living alone, not having sufficient support (especially from the Church authorities), excessive demands and lack of boundaries related to the priestly role and submissive obedience styles, among others. However, the studies reviewed also identified important protection factors: promoting optimism, an approach-based coping style and a collaborative way of resolving conflicts, frequent physical exercise, eating a balanced diet, finding time to rest, strengthening personal identity, social support (from parishioners, collaborators, colleagues, superiors) and leading an active spiritual life. Stress and burnout are associated with certain pathologies linked to smoking, alcoholism, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, anxiety and depression. Strengthening protective factors and minimizing the impact of risk factors would do much to improve the clergy’s occupational health.
... 4 Studies of clergy have found working longer hours is associated with higher odds of obesity 4 as well as poor mental and physical health outcomes. 5 These studies have consistently found a high prevalence of obesity (40-60%) [4][5][6][7] as well as self-reported diagnoses of diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and stress, which are often higher among clergy than the general population. 5,6,8 Underlying most of these conditions are modifiable lifestyle behaviors. ...
... 4 Studies of clergy have found working longer hours is associated with higher odds of obesity 4 as well as poor mental and physical health outcomes. 5 These studies have consistently found a high prevalence of obesity (40-60%) [4][5][6][7] as well as self-reported diagnoses of diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and stress, which are often higher among clergy than the general population. 5,6,8 Underlying most of these conditions are modifiable lifestyle behaviors. ...
... 5 These studies have consistently found a high prevalence of obesity (40-60%) [4][5][6][7] as well as self-reported diagnoses of diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and stress, which are often higher among clergy than the general population. 5,6,8 Underlying most of these conditions are modifiable lifestyle behaviors. Diet quality, 9,10 time spent in physical activity, 11 and stress-reduction 12,13 are all targeted for weight loss and prevention of obesity and obesity-related chronic diseases. ...
Article
Purpose: Clergy have influence on the health of congregations and communities yet struggle with health behaviors. Interventions tailored to their occupation-specific demands and unique needs may provide a solution. Qualitative methods were used to identify opportunities and resources for the development of an effective obesity-related program for clergy. Approach: Ninety-minute focus groups were held with clergy (3 groups) and spouses (3 separate groups). Discussion explored: Program target(s); Opportunities and barriers that influence diet, physical activity, and stress-reduction practices; Empowering and culturally relevant health promotion strategies. Setting: All study activities took place in Memphis, TN. Participants: Eighteen clergy and fourteen spouses participated. All clergy were male, all spouses were female. Method: Previous research with clergy informed the interview guide and the PEN-3 framework aided in organizing the coding of clergy and spouse focus groups. Focus groups were audio recorded and transcripts analyzed using NVivo® 12. Results: Themes included: 1) Intervention targets-clergy, spouses, congregations; 2) Opportunities and barriers-making time, establishing boundaries, church traditions, individuals who support and hinder behavior change; 3) Intervention strategies-tools for healthy eating, goal setting, camaraderie, combining face-to-face with eHealth modalities. Conclusion: The relationship between clergy, spouse, and congregation make it important for obesity-related programs to target the unique needs of both clergy and spouses. Strategies should focus on healthy eating and personal connections no matter the modality used.
... doctors) and of chance increases (Juczyński, 2012). Webb and Chase (2019) draw attention to the important role of professional stress, which may affect priests and have a direct impact on their physical and mental health as well as on health behaviour patterns. The higher the level of occupational stress, the more often priests reported health problems, such as hypertension, diabetes, depression and more time spent sitting and more hours worked per week. ...
... The higher the level of occupational stress, the more often priests reported health problems, such as hypertension, diabetes, depression and more time spent sitting and more hours worked per week. Thus, they confirm that both professional stress and numerous health problems are a current problem for priests, regardless of age and professional experience (Webb & Chase, 2019). Similarly, Ruiz-Prada et al. reviewing the available literature, state that workload is more common among younger priests. ...
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The aim of the study was to assess the relationship between the health behaviours of diocesan priests in Poland and their level of life satisfaction. The specific goal was to determine the factors that most affect their quality of health (internal health control, the influence of others or coincidence) and life satisfaction (positive mental attitude, preventive behaviour, eating habits, health practices). The study involved 250 diocesan priests from the Podkarpackie region who took part in the research by completing an anonymous questionnaire. The questions were mainly based on tools for assessing health behaviours, namely the HBI—health behaviour inventory, MHLC—multidimensional scale of health locus of control and the SWLS—satisfaction with life scale. The general index of health behaviour of clergymen on the HBI scale was 77.12 ± 16.20 (Me = 78), showing a moderate level on the sten scale. On the MHLC health locus of control scale, the respondents believed that their health depended most on internal control: 25.27 ± 5.10 and the influence of others: 23.13 ± 5.57, are of utmost importance for their health. To a lesser extent they believed that health was dependent on chance: 17.60 ± 5.95. The SWLS satisfaction with life index was 22.51 ± 5.43 (Me = 23), also within the moderate range of the sten scale. The factors most closely related to the assessment of life satisfaction were positive mental attitudes and the overall HBI index. The health behaviours of priests measured by the HBI scale and the level of satisfaction with the life of SWLS clergymen are within a moderate range. On the MHLC scale, priests likewise believe that their health depends on themselves and then on others. They are clearly less likely to indicate accidental causes.
... Mainline Protestant clergy exhibit average-to-elevated prevalence of chronic diseases [6,7] and symptoms of depression and anxiety [8,9,10,11]. These physical and mental health concerns among clergy may relate to exposure to chronic stressors from an occupation that is emotionally demanding with leadership responsibilities, public criticism, and few breaks. ...
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Objective: Chronic stress can undermine psychological and physiological health. We sought to evaluate three stress management interventions among clergy, accounting for intervention preferences. Methods: United Methodist clergy in North Carolina enrolled in a partially randomized, preference-based waitlist control trial. The interventions were: mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), Daily Examen prayer practice, and Stress Proofing (stress inoculation plus breathing skills). The intervention period spanned 12 weeks with a 12-week follow-up. Daily text message data were collected to assess practice across the 24 weeks. Co-primary outcomes were symptoms of stress using the Calgary Symptoms of Stress Inventory and 48-hour ambulatory heart rate variability (HRV) at 12-weeks post-intervention compared to waitlist control. Survey data were collected at 0, 12 and 24 weeks, with HRV collected at 0 and 12 weeks. Results: 255 participants (mean age=54 years old; 91% white; 48% female) were randomized and initiated an intervention (n=184) or waitlist control (n=71). Compared to waitlist control, lower stress symptoms were found for MBSR participants [Mean Difference (MD)=-0.30, 95% CI:-0.41,-0.20; p<.001] and Stress Proofing (MD=-0.27, 95% CI:-0.40,-0.14; p<.001) at 12 weeks, and Daily Examen participants not until 24 weeks (MD=-0.24, 95% CI:-0.41,-0.08). Only MBSR participants demonstrated improvement in HRV at 12 weeks (MD=+3.31 millisecond; 95% CI:0.20,6.43; p=.037). Conclusions: MBSR demonstrated robust improvement in self-reported and objective physical correlates of stress whereas Stress Proofing and Daily Examen resulted in improvements in self-reported correlates of stress only. These brief practices were sustainable and beneficial for an occupational sample during the COVID pandemic. Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT04625777 (https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04625777)
... There is much research across White denominations and denominational-specific populations concerning the stressors pastors experience. However, both past and more recent research has continued to focus on samples of primarily White, male pastors in White mainline and conservative Protestant denominations with only a small subset of pastors of color (Hough et al., 2019;Terry & Cunningham, 2020;Webb & Chase, 2019). Darling et al. (2004), as well as Hill et al. (2003), acknowledged the importance of future research including populations with various ethnic and racial backgrounds. ...
Article
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This study sought to determine the level of clergy distress and other psychological characteristics of Black pastors and their relationship to life satisfaction through a convenience sample of 2786 Black pastors in historically Black Protestant denominations and nondenominational Black churches. The response rate equaled 10.1% (283/2786) while the survey completion rate equaled 77% (218/283). These 218 Black pastors were serving as either senior pastors (86.3%) or co-pastors (13.7%). This study found clergy distress in Black pastors did not differ based on gender or age but differed by church size and denomination. Clergy distress (r = − .187, p = .023) and irritation (r = − .293, p = .003) possessed significant relationships with satisfaction with life as expected, but stress management (r = .039, p = .641), spiritual well-being in daily life (r = .140, p = .140), and spiritual well-being in ministry (r = − .064, p = .475) did not, which was surprising. Notably strong relationships existed between stress management and spiritual well-being in daily life (r = .469, p = .003) and stress management and irritation (r = − .359, p = .003). These two important relationships may offer some guideposts for Black pastors in developing strategies to combat the impact of both clergy distress and irritation. The study concludes with implications for Black pastors and suggestions for future research.
... 7 A recent study that sampled pastors revealed that increased occupational distress was associated with chronic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. 8 We must get in touch with our feelings so that we can become effective spiritual caregivers. Ignoring our feelings can make us vulnerable to wanting sympathy from those we should be helping. ...
... Other ministry studies have proposed that interventions targeting obesity and chronic diseases be a priority given high prevalence rates and occupational stress. 37,38 The intertwining of gait performance with fall history is complex. Slower gait velocity is predictive of adverse events in older adults, including hospitalization and falls 39 Conversely, older men with recurrent falls retrospectively have demonstrated poorer gait performance. ...
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Background and Objective Physical performance in older men has been reported in analyses with veterans and in disease-based cohort research. Studies examining gait performance among older monks, however, are narrow. The purpose of this study was to analyze the impact of a recent fall on gait ability in a cohort of Benedictine and Trappist monks in 4 US monastic communities. The second aim was to analyze physical activity and a recent fall as predictive markers of 2 constructs of gait performance. Methods In this cross-sectional study, 53 Benedictine and Trappist monks over 60 ( x = 74.7 ± 7.6; range: 61-94 years) completed a basic sociodemographic and fall history profile, the Timed Up and Go (TUG) Test, Dynamic Gait Index (DGI) and the Physical Activity Scale for the Elderly (PASE). Results Demographic profiles revealed that 10% of participants had fallen over the past 3 months; in addition, those who had fallen were more likely to limit activities because of fear of falling ( P = .005). Monks who had fallen over the past 3 months demonstrated significantly poorer TUG (12.6 ± 2.1 vs 10.5 ± 1.8; P = .01) and DGI (17.2 ± 5.3 vs 22.3 ± 2.3; P < .001) scores. There was a significant association between physical activity and both the TUG (–0.55; P < .001) and DGI (64; P < .001). Multiple regression models demonstrated that physical activity and a fall in the past 3 months predicted 24% of the variance in the TUG ( P < .001) and 46% of the variance in the DGI ( P < .001). Conclusions Gait performance is linked to a recent fall episode among older monks. Predictive determinants of functional mobility (TUG) and superimposing tasks on the gait cycle (DGI) include recent fall history and physical activity. Appropriate health promotion activities can be aligned with these lifestyle attributes in monastic communities.
... These demands include setting high, often unrealistic expectations for themselves (e.g., constant availability; Birk et al. 2001), being closely monitored by congregation members at and outside of work (Lee and Balswick 2006), and providing services in high stress situations involving crisis intervention and abuse (Bledsoe et al. 2013). These chronic and resource-intensive job-related demands can lead to negative effects on clergy physical health (Proeschold-Bell and LeGrand 2010; Webb and Bopp 2017b; Webb and Chase 2019) and mental health (Ellison et al. 2010;Weaver et al. 2002;Webb and Chase 2019). ...
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This is a pilot study on compassion fatigue experienced by spiritual leaders. The sample consisted of 15 religious' affiliations with a total of 41 participants (30 males and 11 females). In this sample, spiritual leaders were not experiencing significant levels of compassion fatigue, and they were satisfied with their work. There was a significant negative correlation between satisfaction and exhaustion, r = -.62, n = 35, p < .01. Additionally, participants reported their coping strategies and support systems.
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