By Candice Hill Buchbinder, ELCA News
Portico Benefit Services, a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), has launched what it calls the ELCA wellness reformation and is inviting ELCA pastors and church leaders to pursue healthier lifestyles in 2016 through its annual wellness program, the GO! Challenge. Portico provides benefits and services to enhance the well-being of ELCA rostered leaders and lay employees.
In an email to ELCA pastors introducing this year’s GO! Challenge, the Rev. Jeffrey Thiemann, Portico president and CEO, said, “We’re not as healthy as we need to be, and it’s compromising our ministry.”
Citing an article from Leadership Journal, Thiemann said clergy from across denominations “suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension at such alarming rates that it’s become a mark of the profession.”
Thiemann pointed to the demanding workload experienced by many pastors that often results in poor health and increased health care costs, which can take “a bigger bite out of church budgets.”
“True, ministry isn’t easy,” said Thiemann. “Technology means we can now be available 24/7. Events frequently center around heavy potluck meals or unhealthy snacks. In our effort to meet the needs of others, we often put ourselves last. Increasingly, we’re paying with poor health.”
“In this wellness reformation, we reach for good physical and emotional health, keep going when we falter, and encourage one another along the way,” said Thiemann. “We role model healthy lifestyles and strive to create a culture that supports well-being in our congregations. Our choices reflect who we’re called to be. We remind each other of what we already know – that our faith calls us to live abundantly.”
In past GO! Challenges, Portico has provided financial incentives for plan members who participated in a four- to six-week healthy lifestyle activity. This year, as part of the wellness reformation, Portico is asking members to make more meaningful change by identifying a desired outcome, committing to concrete steps and achieving a measurable result. Also new this year, Portico will provide resources designed for congregations to help support their leaders, address the long-term challenge of increasing health care costs and promote a healthy culture for all members.
In his report to the October 2015 ELCA Conference of Bishops, Thiemann shared information about the 2016 Go! Challenge and called for a renewed commitment to physical and emotional health.
“Portico’s wellness reformation draws our attention and, I hope, our action toward a serious, often unaddressed concern in our life together as God’s people – the well-being of our leaders,” said the Rev. William O. Gafkjen, bishop of the ELCA Indiana-Kentucky Synod and chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops. “These are challenging times for the church as we seek to faithfully and effectively engage God’s mission of healing, hope and reconciliation in the world today and into the future,” he added. “If we leaders do not tend carefully to our own multi-faceted wellness – and the statistics suggest that, on the whole, we are not doing so – leading at a time like this can easily pull us to and beyond the very limits of our experience, skills and resources and leave us exhausted, sick and disillusioned. Perhaps this initiative will help us all to pay a little more attention to our own wellness, even as we assist others to live well and to engage God’s mission in healthy, hopeful ways.”
“As a synod we are beginning to become healthier,” said the Rev. Tracie L. Bartholomew, bishop of the ELCA New Jersey Synod. “We have moved a stationary bike into our office building for the staff to use while reading or taking a break. We challenged the synod to ‘walk to Bethlehem’ through Advent and Christmas – we may make it in time to join the magi. It has been a fun way to get us moving and I anticipate we will do the same with Lent – walk to Jerusalem together.”
In his email to pastors, Thiemann emphasized that “a wellness-oriented church culture” will not only help leaders achieve a healthy lifestyle, it can also help motivate entire congregations toward greater health.
“Healthy leaders make healthy churches and help them fulfill their mission to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. Suzanne Darcy Dillahunt, bishop of the ELCA Southern Ohio Synod.
“Because our leaders are so deeply dedicated to the mission of the gospel, they often push themselves beyond the boundary of health and well-being,” said the Rev. Wayne N. Miller, bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod. “The result is not only catastrophic for individual leaders, it also has a devastating effect on their congregations. If we can succeed together in establishing healthier lifestyles and good personal stewardship among leaders, we will change the climate of congregations significantly, and we will be renewed and set free to respond to Christ’s call with energy, imagination and joy once again.”
For more information about the ELCA wellness reformation and Portico’s 2016 GO! Challenge:
+Plan members can visit https://myportico.porticobenefits.org/campaign/go_elcaprimary
+Those who sponsor plan members — ELCA congregations and organizations — can visit https://employerlink.porticobenefits.org/home.