By: Doreen Gosmire & Christa Meland
“How can we help our clergy to be the best version of themselves, even in times of stress and distress?” This is precisely the question Diane Owen seeks to address. She has spent the past five years as Lilly grant program director for the Dakotas-Minnesota Area and just transitioned to the role of director of clergy well-being.
The area director of clergy well-being is an expanded version of Owen’s previous role and one that focuses on supporting and resourcing clergy in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota around the five areas of well-being—emotional, financial, physical, spiritual, and social.
“I have always been passionate about total well-being, said Owen. “The dimensions of well-being affect each other and cannot be isolated. I have been acutely aware that many of our clergy often compromise or neglect their well-being due to their single-minded focus on their ministry calling.”
Over the past six years, the Dakotas-Minnesota Area has received three grants from Lilly Foundation, Inc. that together total $2 million. The first two focused on addressing economic challenges facing pastoral leaders, and the third grant—$500,000 awarded in late 2021—is also designed to help clergy be healthy and whole in light of pandemic-related challenges and stressors. Owen has overseen the allocation of the grant funding and the programs and opportunities that have been extended to clergy as a result. Her new position is an extension of the work she’s already been doing.
“I want to discover and move forward the ways in which we can support and resource our clergy so that they can serve faithfully and fully as whole and healthy expressions of God’s love in ministry for others” said Owen, who is a certified health coach.
Rev. Cindy Gregorson, director of ministries and clergy assistant to the bishop, said the pandemic has taken a significant toll on clergy and investing in their well-being is critically important.
“This emphasis on well-being is timely as we seek to walk with our leaders and help them create sustainable, resilient lives in these stressful days, and to be able to stay in ministry for the long haul,” she said. “Being a pastoral leader is a whole person experience. Who we are is not separate from what we do. Therefore, health in all aspects (physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and relational) is essential to effective leadership.”
In recent months, Owen has collected feedback through a variety of avenues—an area well-being survey for clergy, individual interviews with clergy, and Cabinet insights, to name a few—in order to determine core clergy well-being needs across the Dakotas and Minnesota and put together a proposal to address them. Some key strategies that emerged are: creating a pulpit supply system within each conference so that clergy can easily find qualified leaders in order to take time away, offering a transitional leave for clergy between appointments, creating easier access to health and well-being resources and having a designated person to approach for help, and enabling all clergy to easily access some type of direct relational support—whether therapy, spiritual direction, or reflective supervision.
Owen has already established a Dakotas team to map out all existing clergy well-being support services, and she is convening the same type of team in Minnesota. From there, specific design groups will help formalize new offerings and processes using grant funds. The design groups will partner with a variety of existing teams and departments across the conferences—for example, the Boards of Ordained Ministry, the Boards of Pension and Health Benefits, and each Cabinet and leadership development staff—that already have responsibility for some aspect of clergy well-being so they can work together for more effectiveness.
The goal is that by helping pastors achieve well-being, they can in turn support their staff and congregations in order to be able to do the same.
Gregorson noted that Owen brings a passion for this work, as well as her own training and experience in human resources. Additionally, Owen’s recent work with area Lilly Grant projects gives her deep knowledge of our clergy. When the latest Lilly Grant was awarded, “it was a natural next step to formalize and expand Diane's work towards total well-being for clergy,” she said.
Owen, who has a master of education in human resource development, previously led transformational processes for Minnesota churches—including the Healthy Church Initiative—and provided other congregational development training and assistance. She is eager to step into her new role.
“There are many opportunities for clergy to improve their well-being, but there are also gaps to close in response to expressed needs and identified struggles to be whole and healthy,” she said. “I want to ensure that each clergy person can access the opportunities and resources provided without discomfort or distrust, or because they are simply unaware. I want to listen deeply to our clergy to ensure the best possible response is available to assist them.”
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Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church