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Pastor Rickey Baker works out as part of a Pastor Fit Program. He survived a heart attack about two years ago.
Chris Russell/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 1/12/2013
The Columbus Dispatch
COLUMBUS, Ohio--Pastor Rickey Baker was wrapping up a Sunday sermon at New Palestine Church in North Linden when he suddenly felt exhausted and weak, so much so that he eventually left the sanctuary and found a seat in the foyer.
Chest pains prompted him to call for emergency medical service, and he was taken to a hospital, where the father of four learned he had had a massive heart attack.
More than two years later, the 50-year-old Baker has changed his eating habits and slimmed down. He says God was trying to wake him up and set him on a path to ensure he'd be able to keep doing the work he was meant to do.
Baker is not alone in his struggle to stay healthy as the leader of a church congregation. Studies indicate that clergy members might sometimes be so focused on taking care of their flock that they neglect their own health.
Researchers at Duke University in Durham, N.C., found in 2008 that United Methodist pastors in North Carolina, for example, had an obesity rate of about 41 percent, versus the state average of about 29 percent. The pastors also had higher rates of high blood pressure, angina, diabetes, asthma and arthritis.
"They've been called to this vocation of serving God, and they see serving others as an important part of that," said Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, the research director of the Duke University Clergy Health Initiative.
Added to the self-pressure is pressure from congregations that expect pastors to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Proeschold-Bell said.
As church budgets shrink and people have less time to volunteer, some pastors are responsible for everything from mowing the lawn to planning Bible camps to raising money for a new building.
She said it's important for church leaders to understand and address the pressures because the cost of clergy health care could bankrupt congregations.
The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church and the Reformed Church in America are among those that have taken steps in that direction, as have local groups.
In Columbus, Ohio, personal trainer Sidney West of Body By Sid offers a Pastor Fit Program aimed at clergy members.