Three United Methodist Church pastors from North Carolina share how Selah Stress Management practices help cultivate hope, health, and resilience during emotionally charged times.

The Selah Stress Management trial, a three-year research study conducted by the Duke Clergy Health Initiative engaged almost 300 United Methodist Church (UMC) clergy from across the state of North Carolina and rigorously tested three separate practices: the Daily Examen, a prayer practice that reflects on God's presence in everyday life; Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a meditation practice that builds capacity for being fully present despite life's stressors, and Stress Proofing, which raises stress awareness and includes breathing, physical, and lifestyle practices.

Pastor Jason Villegas holds up a loaf of bread symbolizing the body of Christ for a communion ceremony.

PHOTO: Pastor Jason Villegas

PHOTO: Pastor Jason Villegas

Jason Villegas:  "When we take care of ourselves, it gives other people the license to do the same."

According to Jason Villegas, a NCC UMC pastor, ministry is interruption-driven, and yet "every person that we spend time with deserves our full attention."

And so the question isn’t ‘can we make our lives less stressful.’ The question is ‘given that we’re in a stressful profession, how are we going to protect ourselves from that stress?’

When Villegas learned Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) through the Selah Stress Management trial, he found that regulating his stress was key to being fully present with others. As a result, he now considers his daily practice "a matter of survival."

ABOVE: "I thought that people would pick on me when I first started putting a sign on my door and retreating to meditate," he says. "But when we take care of ourselves, it gives others license to do the same," says Jason Villegas.

Michael Kurtz:  Learning to Focus on the Call

The competing demands of serving a congregation, says veteran pastor Michael Kurtz, can feel like being a dog at a whistle convention.

“You have this voice over here, one over there, and you drive yourself crazy,” says Kurtz, who retired in June after 40 years of pastoring. “You don’t end up serving the church because you’re so scattered. You’re not focused on the call.”
Pastor Michael Kurtz, WNCC UMC

In the Selah study, Kurtz used a prayer-based practice called the Daily Examen. Every morning, he would review the previous day to find things for which he was grateful. The exercise helped him cope with the stress of seeing his daughter go through a divorce.

“It gives oneself permission to pause, come apart, and embrace the pause,” he says. “Finding God in the situation didn’t come quickly and it takes work.”

Note: This text was excerpted from "Clergy Learn Ways to Tackle Stress to Better Serve Others," by Alicia Banks.

Carol Carkin:  "Selah has really grown my capacity to be present in ministry with other people."

Carol Carkin struggled with anxiety for most of her life - first in middle school and later in her career as a pastor, where speaking about stress is often taboo.

In ministry, says Carkin, you tend to take on a super hero mentality. "When I’ve done that, I’ve been rewarded for it – though it comes at a high cost," she says.

ABOVE: "Selah has really been a game-changer for me beyond what I ever could have expected," says Carol Carkin, who learned a stress reduction practice called "Stress-Proofing" in the Selah Stress Management trial.

When Carlin learned Stress-Proofing in the Selah trial, it taught her to tune into the signals her body was sending her:

"When I get up in the morning, I make sure I have ten extra minutes before my son needs me or I’m looking at my phone. I do some breathing and check in with my body, see where there’s tension," she says.

"Starting my day [with Stress-Proofing} helps me start with a calm and a peace that sticks with me. That’s an act of prayer for me."
- Pastor Carol Carkin, WNCC UMC

"Jesus had a very embodied experience," says Carkin, "and that means I shouldn’t ignore my own. If Jesus in his earthly ministry needed that kind of nourishment, then I need it too. And there’s no shame in that."