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Duke Offers Health Help to Ministers

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The obesity epidemic is sweeping the nation and ministers are no exception. So to make sure every United Methodist minister in North Carolina is healthy, Duke University is embarking on a 7-year, $12 million dollar plan.

Caring for a congregation isn't just a Sunday job for ministers like Edward New. "It can take up a whole lot of time, so much time that it doesn't leave time for anything else let alone self care."

Pastor New is busy establishing the Wakefield United Methodist Church - so to make sure he and his minister wife aren't neglecting their own health, exercise is a priority, but research shows not all ministers do the same. "It is no secret that obesity and depression are working their way into the clergy ranks," New said.

Duke University is hoping to help change that with a 7-year, $12 million dollar project. The goal? To improve the mental and physical health of North Carolina's 1600 United Methodist ministers. Duke Divinity School Dean L. Gregory Jones explains, "It's a major problem and we feel if we improve the health of the clergy, it will have an impact on improving the congregations and the larger communities."

Duke's Divinity School will oversee this program to help United Methodist ministers across the state get healthy. The $12 million dollars is coming from the Duke Endowment which was set up by the will of James Duke. "When James Duke started the Duke Endowment, a private philanthropy in Charlotte, he said if he ever amounted to anything in life it'd be thanks to his father and the preaching of rural Methodist preachers," Jones said.

Each year, the Duke Endowment helps United Methodist Church projects along with colleges, and health and child welfare organizations in the Carolinas. This is the first project that will proved Methodist preachers with health coaches and could be a pilot project for clergy across the country.

Duke officials hope it will lead to decreased health care costs and help congregations retain clergy. In North Carolina, Pastor New hopes it helps just one. "If this saves one pastor from an unhealthy lifestyle and it gives them another decade of vital powerful Christ centered church leadership, I think it would be wonderful."

The plan is in the development phase this year. Duke officials expect it to be fully up and going by the spring 2008.

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