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Bishop challenges clergy to ‘indulge’ in self-care during Lent

 


Bishop challenges clergy to ‘indulge’ in self-care during Lent

March 4, 2005

A UMNS Feature
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

A United Methodist bishop is willing to put her money where her mouth is and donate a portion of her salary for clergy to “give their fat to the Lord” and get healthy.

Bishop Sally Dyck is challenging all United Methodist clergy in the Minnesota Area to adopt healthier eating habits during the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter. And if they lose a little weight along the way, she will donate $2 per pound to the Minnesota Annual Conference Bishop’s Mission Challenge. Proceeds will benefit a project for Russian United Methodists and the building fund of La Puerta Abierta United Methodist Church, a predominantly Spanish-speaking congregation in St. Paul.

Dyck’s health plan includes eating five to nine “clean” fruits and vegetables a day, exercising at least 30 minutes a day, and praying and reading the Bible for 30 minutes. By “clean” she means no butter, sour cream, mayonnaise, cream or other “Minnesotan favorites” that can drown fruit and vegetables.

Preaching to a gathering of Metro East and West District clergy on Feb. 9, Ash Wednesday, Dyck used Eugene Peterson’s translation of Leviticus 3:16, “All the fat is the Lord’s!” to make her point. “I took the passage shamelessly out of context,” she says, laughing.

She also pledged to donate $4 per pound that she and her husband, the Rev. Kenneth Ehrman, lose during Lent. Ehrman heard about the challenge after the sermon.

“My husband was a little surprised about the whole thing,” she says. “He shares my core values around health and also mission. Even without having consulted him ahead of time, I knew he would be very supportive of this.”

The challenge also took a few other people by surprise.

“When I sat down that morning, it wasn’t exactly the message I was expecting to hear on Ash Wednesday,” says the Rev. Joyce Slostad, Champlin (Minn.) United Methodist Church. “And yet it is a message that we need to hear almost any time about taking care of ourselves, establishing healthy practices. She wasn’t encouraging us to go on a diet but to put healthier habits into our lives.”

“It was a real encouraging twist on Ash Wednesday service,” says the Rev. Joan Lilja, minister of Christian education at Centennial United Methodist Church, Roseville, Minn. “It spoke to all of us, I think, as far as the importance of what we do with our lives and care for ourselves.”
 
Dyck encouraged the clergy to think of Lent as a spiritual spa and “indulge” in taking care of themselves.

“At that Ash Wednesday service I really challenged the clergy to think about Lent in a little different way—that Lent is really a spiritual spa and the true nature of a spa is one finds healthy habits and practices,” she says. Often Lent is thought of in negative ways, as a time to “give up” something. For clergy, Lent can be especially stressful as they take on extra work, she says.

“We just tend to look at the calendar and feel overpowered with the responsibilities that we have,” Lilja says. “She challenged us all to go toward Lent in a different way this time. It felt good, and it helped. I felt my shoulders a little lifted.”

The Rev. Max Richter, Edgewater-Emmanuel United Methodist Church, pledged to lose 10 pounds. He, too, found Dyck’s message “refreshing.”

“It is a sensitive topic that she handled well,” he says. “The body is the vehicle for the soul, and we can’t separate the two. We can’t separate our physical care from our spiritual care.”

Dyck emphasizes her plan is not a diet but an encouragement to develop strong spiritual leadership.

“My concern is that the clergy in our congregations are as healthy as possible. They also have a great impact on the health practices within their church.”

As the bishop travels around the area, she says she often finds herself eating two meals a day at different churches. She says many times she is not offered one “clean” fruit or vegetable in two meals.

“What happens is when the clergy begins to notice, it does impact local churches,” she says. “It doesn’t mean they will no longer have delicious desserts or dishes with cream sauces, but they will at least be offering one or two healthy choices. I have seen it happen; it changes the culture in that local church.”

She emphasizes that she is not trying to make everyone go on a diet or give up all the foods they love. In her column on the Minnesota Conference Web site, she points people to a Web site for free trade chocolate.

“Does that sound like a contradiction?” she asks, laughing. “I thought it was great to be able to offer a justice issue around chocolate as well.”

Slostad, who says she has struggled with her weight most of her adult life, also pledged to lose 10 pounds. She says she surprised herself by telling her congregation about the bishop’s challenge and her pledge at her own Ash Wednesday service.

“I told my congregation I had quipped, ‘You could lose a lot of money there bishop,’ mainly talking about myself but knowing there are a number of large people in our conference.” She has received support and encouragement from her congregation. “They want me to succeed,” she says.

“To have our bishop say, ‘I want you to be healthy for your own sake,’ made me start thinking more seriously about it,” she adds. “I didn’t hear in her tone or her words or message in general that she thought we are so unhealthy as a conference but rather, ‘do this for yourself and you will feel better, perform better.’ I think that is why she chose the spiritual spa theme.”

Richter agrees that taking care of yourself makes good sense.

“It makes me more effective, more centered, more responsive to my congregation. The better I take care of myself, the better pastor I am.”

Dyck hopes she will be donating “thousands of dollars” at this year’s annual conference from her challenge. “The purpose is to raise money for what we think are two very important outreaches. It is a fun way to invest in what this annual conference has done in reaching beyond itself.” 

To read more about the bishop’s challenge, go to www.minnesotaumc.org and click on the Bishop’s Corner.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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