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A pastor's courage and inspiration to improve the health and well-being of his flock brings impressive results.
I needed allies. So I called a meeting of my ushers. “I want you to be my church leaders,” I told them. “We need to be more relevant. Find ways to talk about important topics like, say, health.”
“What about a health fair?” someone suggested.
“Beautiful,” I said.
The fair had free blood pressure checks, cholesterol and glucose screenings. But we needed to do more.
The ushers made calendars with monthly health tips and handed them out with the church bulletin. I started slipping in lines in my sermons about diet and exercise being a form of stewardship, of taking good care of the bodies God had blessed us with.
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Each time I heard a few more “Amens” and “That’s right” in response.
More folks were coming to services. We started meeting every Sunday. Soon we needed a bigger place to worship. In October 2003 we dedicated a church with a new sanctuary, a fellowship hall and a parking lot nearly encircling the building.
That Sunday we held our first potluck dinner. Platters were set out, fried chicken, meatloaf, meatballs, sausage and egg casseroles. Then there were the desserts, chocolate cake, brownies, lemon cream pie.
I knew everyone had meant well. They’d brought their favorite dishes to share, an expression of their love for God and each other. I needed to show them that we could enjoy the same fellowship, but with healthier foods.
Before our next dinner I asked the ushers to assign people dishes to bring. “We need broccoli and carrots, a tossed salad,” I said. “And the chicken? It needs to be baked.”
There was grumbling, but no one stayed away. It was going to take more than baked chicken for Baptists to pass up a free meal.
Next we started a program called Taste Test Sunday, comparing two versions of the same dessert, one made with sugar, the other Splenda. People were amazed. They couldn’t tell the difference.
One day that next spring, walking into the church, I noticed something unusual. Three women walking in the parking lot, circling the church.
“How far have you gone?” I asked.
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“We’re on our fourth lap,” a woman said. “But we don’t know how far that is. Do you?”
I asked an usher to measure the distance. That’s when we had the sign put up: 7½ laps = 1 mile.
Even now sitting at my computer I could see that sign so clearly in my mind. I passed by it every day. But...when was the last time I’d heeded it
and walked laps? I was always in a hurry to get to my desk and get to work.
Same thing this morning with the lawn mowing. I’d barely broken a sweat. Here I’d been preaching the gospel of good health but I hadn’t been practicing it. And now I knew why it was so hard for people. We’re all so busy doing what we always do. Who has time to change?
I would have to start doing things differently myself if I was to set a convincing example for my congregation.
I closed out of my sermon. Somehow it seemed more important to weed the flower beds.
That Monday, before I headed into my office, I walked a mile around the church. A handful of church members were already there. The next weekend I sold my riding lawnmower and bought a push mower. I spent hours every Saturday working in my yard. The ache in my muscles come Sunday felt good.