Pastors and priests learn about their spiritual well-being at conference

Physical and spiritual wellness for pastors, priests

Physical and spiritual wellness for pastors, priestsCHARLESTON—Imagine a large cart hooked to one small donkey. The cart is so overloaded it tips backward, lifting the donkey into the air, where it looks in bewilderment at the ground several feet below.

Overburdened, wondering how the heck to move forward.

This is what it feels like to be a pastor today, said the Rev. G. Lloyd Rediger.

The image and remark elicited laughter from participants at the Pastoral Care Spring Symposium at St. Francis Hospital on April 29, and underscored one of Rediger’s central points: The topic is serious, but laughter is a key to spiritual well-being.

The symposium
Rediger was the speaker at the daylong event, where he delivered a barrage of grim statistics and trends, but also provided encouragement through a variety of spiritual exercises.

Armed with a doctorate in religion and psychology, the Presbyterian minister has written eight books on spiritual leadership issues.

Participants at the event said they were especially intrigued by “Clergy Killers” and “The Toxic Congregation.”

The Rev. Rodney Barrentine, an ordained minister of music at Ebenezer AME Church in Charleston, said he received valuable insight on how to handle himself and situations within the congregation.

In talking about the toxic phenomenon, Rediger called it the battered pastor syndrome and said the people who set out to undermine a pastor and his congregation are evil.  

“If ever we needed to believe the Gospel we preach it is now,” he said.

Protect your congregation
Rediger said dissident members are a real threat and he has seen the destruction they can wreak. He said clergy must have a plan in place to deal with those who are counterproductive to the good of the church.

Create positive reinforcement such as prayer groups, listening posts and leadership training seminars, he said.

Most importantly, Rediger said, establish a grievance-suggestion procedure to handle complaints that follows the same steps as our legal system.

For a detailed explanation of the procedure, visit his website at and look under columns/essays.

Finding support
Even without a clergy killer in their midst, life is stressful, Rediger said. It’s important for priests, pastors and other religious leaders, who are always there for those in need, to take care of themselves too.

Father Antony Benjamine, administrator of St. Mary Church on Yonges Island, came to the symposium to learn more about helping others. He said he was surprised at how much he got out of it on a personal level.

“I learned about finding support for myself and giving it to others in the clergy,” Father Benjamine said.

Rediger told the 80 participants that it is essential they practice self-care and have friends they can talk to in good times and bad.

Stress relievers
Statistics show that members of the clergy are more likely to be overweight than other professions, the minister said. Don’t turn to that candy bar, or two, he advised. Instead, eat right, drink water and make time for exercise.

A surprising bit of advice was to smile. Rediger said smiling for 30 seconds will produce 30 minutes of positive emotion.

He also encouraged pastors to give their congregation safe signals so they will feel comfortable and pay attention to the homily. Telling jokes or light stories will have people smiling and laughing, which lets them know they are safe and opens them to the Gospel. Above all, don’t be so hard on yourself and stop looking for perfection, Rediger said.

“You’re going to do what needs to be done and you’re probably going to do it pretty well with God’s help,” he said.