Pastors are generally driven by a sense of duty to answer calls for help. But research shows that in many cases they rarely find time for themselves. Members of the clergy suffer from higher rates of depression, obesity and high blood pressure than the rest of the population, and many are burning out.
Of 13 factors that influence clergy health, Wespath named a lack of outside interests and social life as a critical obstacle to emotional, physical and social health. Participating in pastimes disconnected from church work is one of the ways in which clergy experience better markers in their mental, emotional and physical health.
Yet for some clergy, hobbies have become a thing of the past as job responsibilities and family obligations stack up and free time disappears. Worse, many hobbies have morphed into side hustles or as paths to career development, turning the things we ostensibly do for fun into more work (“You should be selling your creations on Etsy!”). For the purposes of this article, let’s strip productivity out of the notion of a hobby. Instead, let’s consider hobbies as leisure activities in the pursuit of fun.
The irony of this, of course, is that hobbies do make you more productive, in a way. A 2009 study showed that more time spent on leisure activities resulted in lower blood pressure, lower levels of depression and stress and overall better psychological and physical functioning.
“I think our job is a job that is very easy to overtake our entire life,” said Rev. Arden Ratcliff-Mann, Children’s Minister at Liberty. “It’s important for boundaries that you’re not thinking about church all the time. It makes me enjoy my work more when I am not thinking about it all the time.”
Ratcliff-Mann picked up hula-hooping during seminary after a family friend made her an adult-sized hula-hoop. When adults think they can’t hula-hoop it’s often because they are using an improper size. A larger, heavier hoop usually does the trick. In addition to the physical benefits, it’s a hobby that offers vocational opportunities, “I always joke that I could join a circus if I needed to!” laughed Ratcliff-Mann.
Hobbies can also jump-start your creativity or allow your mind to wander and look at problems from a new angle. According to the Duke Clergy Health Initiative, 94 percent of clergy with flourishing mental health are intentional about spending time on personal care like exercise, prayer, time with family and hobbies.
“As a pastor, you are always trying to think of something to improve the faith of the congregation,” said Rev. Floyd Gudde, senior pastor of Elsberry and avid orchid-grower. “But if you can spend a few minutes every day to breathe and try something else to relax your mind, it’s a recharging sort of thing. It’s adult recess.”
To counteract health risks, clergy should seek out hobbies that help center and ground them. Rev. Phil Estes revisited a long-held artistic passion he had laid aside in the busyness of raising his family. A 2015 move to a new house in Augusta, Missouri, introduced Estes to the Augusta Plein Air Art Festival. Encouraged by his neighbors to register for the festival, Estes has been “en plein air” painting (i.e., open-air painting like the French impressionists) ever since.
“I do it as a part of who I am. It is a spiritual exercise,” Estes said. “When you do something that you have been gifted with, you are more grounded. It is a great stress reliever. It allows you to rise above the daily minutia of daily life. It is a great time of prayer and contemplation.”
Exploring interests beyond the Church also offers pastors an opportunity to engage in the world of the unchurched. Building relationships with others who have been harmed by the Church or who have chosen to leave the Church help build empathy and offer pastors an important look into a growing segment of the population.
Four to six times a year Rev. Daniel Shanks camps with other players from the Society for Creative Anachronisms. SCA is an international educational society that could be described as a cross between cosplay and LARPers and Civil War reenactors.
Shanks role plays as “Corbyn,” a Fyrdmen of the Calontir army, an earned rank won through fighting tournaments. His best friend in this kingdom happens to be a knight and works at Enterprise in St. Louis for his day job.
“You’ve heard the adage: Bible in one hand and newspaper in another. It doesn’t have to be a newspaper; it can be people,” Shanks said. “When people find out I’m a pastor, they are very honest with their opinions. Where else is a pastor going to hear those kinds of opinions? You don’t get to hear that in your own church about how the Church has hurt them.”
And, hobbies are also medicine for the soul. Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play in California, says, “Play is a basic human need as essential to our well-being as sleep, so when we’re low on play, our minds and bodies notice.”
Pastor of Crystal City and First (Festus), Rev. Tish Green shreds the bass guitar in an all-girl band called, Jilted. The foursome only plays break-up songs like Taylor Swift’s “Trouble.”
“The other three people in the band are in no way connected to The United Methodist Church,” Green said. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We get to laugh a lot, and laughter is good for you.”
To see a sampling of clergy hobbies from the Missouri Conference, visit our photo album www.moumethodist.org/clergyhobbies on the Conference Facebook page.