2009 - 2016

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, specifically targeting symptoms of metabolic syndrome, depression, and stress and showed remarkable physical health outcomes. Markers of metabolic syndrome were significantly improved at the end of the intervention period and were sustained for an additional 18 months.

Data from Spirited Life indicated only minor improvements in depression and stress symptoms and these minor improvements were not sustained over time. In order to find solutions that could help pastors with stress and depression, the Clergy Health Initiative launched The Selah Stress Reduction Intervention in 2019.


Clergy suffer from high rates of obesity, chronic disease, and depression, and simultaneously underestimate the toll these take on their daily functioning. Health interventions are needed for clergy and may be tailored to their occupational context and theological beliefs. Few studies have sought to improve clergy health. No prior studies have utilized a randomized design. Spirited Life is a randomized, multiple baseline study that offered enrollment to nearly all United Methodist Church clergy in North Carolina in fall 2010. A total of 1,114 clergy (response rate=64%) enrolled. Using a multiple baseline design, we randomized participants to three cohorts. Each cohort began the health intervention in one of three consecutive years. The third cohort served as a randomized waitlist control cohort, allowing comparisons between the first and third cohorts. The two-year Spirited Life intervention consists of: 1) a theological underpinning for health stewardship based on incarnation, grace, and response and delivered during workshops; 2) the stress management program Williams LifeSkills; 3) Naturally Slim, an online weight loss program; 4) phone contact with a Wellness Advocate; and 5) $500 small grants for health goals. Metabolic syndrome is the primary endpoint. Stress and depressive severity are secondary endpoints. We measured each construct before, twice during, and at the end of the two-year intervention. Study outcomes, to be published after follow-up data are gathered, will provide evidence of the effectiveness of the combined intervention components of Spirited Life. If successful, the intervention may be considered for use with other clergy and faith populations.



Carl Weisner, MA, Senior Director

Jia Yao, MA, Statisticiam

Robin Swift, MPH, Program Director

Amanda Wallace, MDiv, Research Manager

Melanie Kolkin, Research Manager

Rachel Meyer, Research Manager

Liz Turner, PhD, Lead Statistician

Xiang-Fang Li, MD, Statistician


David Toole, PhD, MTS, MPH, Principal Investigator

Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, PhD, Research Director


The Duke Endowment


Logan Tice

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