Sunday, June 26, 2011

Clergy Health

Professor Henry Rack is the editor of volume 10, and his introductions and commentaries provide a very helpful overview of the different types of Minutes that were published by Wesley.  The 1780 version of the 'Large' Minutes may be of most interest to United Methodists as this document was the basis of the first American Book of Discipline.

As Rack explains, the earliest edition of the 'Large' Minutes was the Disciplinary Minutes (the Doctrinal and Disciplinary Minutes were published as separate tracts in 1749).  The pamphlet on Methodist doctrine was not revised, unlike the one on discipline which was edited six different times during Wesley's lifetime (1753, 1763, 1770, 1772, 1780, and 1789).

Many of the sections found in earlier editions are retained in the 1780 discipline including a brief history of Methodism, policies on field preaching, rules on society membership, suggestions for class leaders, guidelines for home visitations, and a job description for preachers.

New sections on nervous disorders , fasting, guidelines on singing, polity related to preaching houses and the General Fund, and the dangers of Calvinism are added in 1780.

The section on nervous disorders reflects Wesley's interest in medicine.  It begins with a question. "What reasons can be assigned why so many of our preachers contract nervous disorders?"  Wesley then summarizes the opinion of the eighteenth-century British physician William Cadogan who concluded that the principle causes of nervous disorders were indolence and intemperance.  Wesley applied Cadogan's theory to the preachers and accused them of not getting enough exercise, eating too much, and sleeping too long.  As a cure Wesley's advised them to "(1) Take as little meat, drink, and sleep as nature will bear; and (2) Use full as much exercise daily as they did before they were preachers."

Two things jumps out at me in this section.  First, the assumption that physical health and mental well-being are inter-related and second, Wesley's silence on spiritual health and maturation as a necessary factor in maintaining a sound mental state.  (Maybe the need for spiritual exercises was so obvious to him that it didn't occur to Wesley that he needed to mention it?)

What would a disciplinary section on clergy health (physical, mental, and spiritual) look like today?  My guess-- it would be part of the standard used to declare a minister ineffective and unfit for appointment.

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