Clergy burnout is a growing concern in polarized churches, summit offers coping strategies

STILLWATER, Minn. (AP) — Every morning, the Rev. Karna Moskalik goes through a “grounding” routine that involves prayer, Bible reading, positive affirmations, and meditations about the best outcomes for the day’s tasks, as well as lighting a perfumed candle and walking through each space of her Lutheran church.

“I always feel like work never ends, but at the same time I beefed up grounding because without it, I feel absolutely ineffective,” said Moskalik, who grew up a pastor’s daughter and has led the 700-member Our Savior’s congregation for four years in this small riverside town.

That level of faith-based self-care is just what many clergy should practice to avoid the burnout and deteriorating mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression that experts say are affecting religious leaders at a worrisome pace.

“Mental health needs are just overwhelming faith communities,” said Jamie Aten, a professor at Wheaton College and the co-founder of Spiritual First Aid. He is helping organize a free one-day, online “church mental health summit” on Tuesday that already has about 9,000 registrations from over 100 countries. Participants can access 60 pre-recorded expert talks.

Faith leaders have increasingly stepped into the frontlines of care for growing mental health distress across the U.S., from college campuses to the military and rural communities.