2019 - 2022
Project status: Completed
Between 2009 and 2016, the Duke Clergy Health Initiative designed and implemented a holistic health intervention for North Carolina United Methodist Clergy called Spirited Life. The intervention specifically targeted symptoms of metabolic syndrome, depression, and stress and showed remarkable physical health outcomes. While the markers of metabolic syndrome showed significant improvement throughout the intervention period and 18 months following the intervention period, depression and stress symptoms only showed minor improvements.
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 in 2022.
Guided by data from United Methodist clergy in NC across 10 years and the most up-to-date findings in the larger stress management literature, we engaged almost 300 United Methodist clergy from across the state of North Carolina on a journey to evaluate three specific practices chosen specifically for clergy.
SPIRITED LIFE: SELAH aimed to help clergy live fully into ministry while decreasing stress symptoms. Despite the abundance of existing programs to reduce stress, people often don’t engage in them because they are too time-consuming, don’t fit with one’s beliefs, or don’t fit into one’s day. These particular practices were chosen specifically for clergy. The three practices were: 1) mindfulness-based stress reduction; 2) the Daily Examen prayer practice; and 3) StressProofing,
Because the funding for this research coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the programmatic components of the Selah Stress Management Trial were delivered remotely. While this was not the original program design, we were grateful for the opportunity to engage clergy during a uniquely stressful period and to design and test programming that is easily scalable and low-cost.
SPIRITED LIFE: SELAH began with participation in an online workshop designed to introduce clergy to a new stress reduction practice and to a group of fellow clergy. Depending on which practice was chosen, clergy attended anywhere from three to eight online sessions where they learned their practice under the guidance of trained and qualified instructors.
Participants were encouraged to practice daily for six months and received daily text messages.
SPIRITED LIFE: SELAH had two primary components:
- Instructional programming that introduced clergy to particular stress-reduction skills, and invited them into daily practice in community with a cohort of 15-20 other clergy.
- A six-month behavioral health study that used surveys, biometric data, interviews, and daily reporting to rigorously determine whether or not each program made a difference for participants compared to a waitlist control group.
Selah aimed to help clergy live fully into ministry while reducing stress and anxiety symptoms. Compared to comparable participants in the control group, mindfulness-based stress reduction participants had significantly fewer stress and anxiety symptoms at 3 and 6 months and depressive symptoms at 6 months and improved heart rate variability at 3 months. StressProofing participants had significantly fewer stress and anxiety symptoms at 3 and 6 months and depressive symptoms at 6 months, but not improved heart rate variability. The Daily Examen prayer practice participants had significantly fewer stress and anxiety symptoms at 6 months but not at 3 months, and fewer depressive symptoms at 3 and 6 months, but not improved heart rate variability. Additionally, the Daily Examen participants had better spiritual well-being scores at 6 months, versus comparable control group participants.
Dr. Joshua Rash, Research Co-Director
Carl Weisner, MA, Senior Director
Jessie Larkins, MEd, MDiv, Program Director
Logan Tice, MA, Research Manager
Alyssa Platt, MA, Lead Statistician
Jia Yao, MA, Statistician
Beth Stringfield, Senior Project Coordinator
Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, Ph.D., Director and Principal Investigator
David Eagle, Ph.D., Co-Director
- Download the Selah report here
- Ministering to Ministers: Clergy Health Initiative helps pastors find strength amid stress
- The Selah Pilot Study of Spiritual, Mindfulness, and Stress Inoculation Practices on Stress-Related Outcomes Among United Methodist Clergy in the United States
- Clergy Learn Ways to Tackle Stress to Better Serve Others: A Duke project is teaching stress reduction techniques to help North Carolina ministers cope with the demands of their calling.
- VIDEOS: Selah Participants Share Their Stories
- Selah outcomes manuscript on medRxiv
- Selah trial study protocol published in the journal Trials
- Selah pilot study outcomes published in the Journal of Religion and Health.
- Selah Stress Management Behavioral Trial ClinicalTrials.gov registration.