(Reuters) - Pastor Michael Minor stirred a bit of controversy at his northwest Mississippi church when he banned fried chicken from the fellowship hall. But convinced that faith communities need to step up their efforts against obesity, Minor is now urging fellow African-American congregations nationwide to make the health of their members a priority.
"Our bodies are not our own. They're a gift from God," he said. "We should do a better job with our bodies."
Church leaders across the country agree. A pastor in San Antonio, Texas, last month kicked off a 100-day challenge that pairs faith with fat-fighting. A church in Tampa, Florida, hosted classes on healthier eating. Others have instituted "Salad Sundays," community gardens and exercise programs.
The wellness push comes at an opportune time, with recent reports showing Americans keep getting heavier. The problem is particularly worrisome in the South, the region with the country's highest adult obesity rates.
Public health experts say faith communities, with their long records of tending to the sick and driving social change, are in a unique position to help tackle the obesity epidemic and the severe health problems associated with it.
What do you think? Do you feel that churches are influential in encouraging healthy behaviors? Or does the message seem to go in one ear and out the other?
Grants from Episcopal Appalachian Ministries
Applications for 2011 and 2012 Jubilee Ministry grants are now being accepted in four categories for mission and ministry throughout the Episcopal Church.
Applications are available in two 2011 categories: diocesan initiatives and health and nutrition. The two 2012 categories are Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) workshop funding and summer camp programs.
Jubilee Ministries are congregations or agencies with connections to The Episcopal Church whose mission efforts affect the lives of those in need, addressing basic human needs and justice issues. Grants to Jubilee ministries are awarded annually.
All application forms are available here: www.episcopalchurch.org/jubilee
Categories, deadlines, amounts and explanation:
Funding diocesan initiatives; due October 1; $1,000 grants to support Jubilee Ministry development plans of the local bishop and the appointed diocesan jubilee officer. Up to 50 grants available (dioceses can receive one grant).
Health and nutrition, due October 1; $750 grants for Jubilee Ministries that respond to the nutritional needs of people living in “food deserts,” defined as those communities in which residents have no easy access to fresh produce, and must rely on convenience stores or fast-food restaurants to provide their meals.
Jubilee Ministry ABCD Workshop; due December 30 for dioceses hosting two-day Asset Based Community Development training workshops featuring ABCD Institute trainer Mike Green; financial benefit of $5,000 per workshop event. Six 2012 ABCD workshops will be funded.
2012 Summer Camps; due December 30; $1,000 grants to promote summer camp programs that target either youth literacy or children of the incarcerated. Thirty grants will be awarded in March 2012.
For guidelines, additional information, and to apply for any of the grants: www.episcopalchurch.org/jubilee
For more information contact the Rev. Christopher Johnson, Episcopal Church Jubilee Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Episcopal Church Jubilee Ministries: www.episcopalchurch.org/jubilee
Matthew 10:24-39/June 26, 2011
As I write this sermon, I am sitting on an American Airlines Boeing 737 flying from Miami to Las Vegas. Earlier this morning, I left Port au Prince, Haiti for Miami. Soon I will be home in my own bed in Pahrump, Nevada. This trip is the exact reverse of a trip that I made only 72 hours earlier, leaving my home in Pahrump for Las Vegas; and then flying from Las Vegas to Miami; and from Miami to Port au Prince.
How many miles –around 9,000. How expensive – very. Why – to be a disciple of Christ by going to provide support and caring to Haitians who continue to struggle in the aftermath of an unbelievably devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010 that was soon followed by a force 2 hurricane; a massive cholera epidemic; and a period of violent political unrest during which it was frequently too dangerous to venture into the streets without fear of being kidnapped or shot.
I first went to Haiti in 1999. At that time, the extreme poverty throughout the country was grim, but the people’s eyes were bright; they had smiles on their faces; they laughed and sang and danced continually; they were filled with the Spirit – you could feel it everywhere you went. The Spirit brought love; hope; patience; compassion; and joy to the people of Haiti, despite their poverty and political turmoil. Despite massive challenges, life was filled with the gifts of the Spirit. In 1999, I left Haiti with a song in my heart, inspired by the many, many joyful, creative, and deeply spiritual people that I had encountered; spoken with; eaten with; and worshipped with. We had shared the Spirit in a most glorious way.
Today, in Haiti, the people’s eyes are not bright – rather they stare vacantly into space. Smiles no longer grace the faces of these beautiful men, women and children. Rather, grim, frozen faces are set towards the immediate task of sustaining life at that moment in time. There is no laughing; no singing; no dancing. The Spirit is not visible in the faces of Haiti today.
On June20, 2011, I leave Haiti with a heavy heart. I have seen a people, once proud and resilient, compassionate and caring; fun loving and immensely talented in so many areas, now defeated and living amid ruins and poverty that are truly overwhelming even to those of us well versed in tragedy and pain.
As before, on my other trips, we spoke together, ate together, and worshipped together. However, this time, the Spirit seemed only vaguely present, as if through a thinly veiled memory rather than a real presence in the moment. The ruins that once were Haiti are ever present in these people’s lives. At least a quarter of a million people were killed with at least another quarter of a million are living in tents and tin shacks. Collapsed buildings line most streets; roads have turned to rubble and dust; garbage is piled high everywhere with pigs routing and goats grazing for their daily sustenance; water mains continue to break causing flooding in many areas, including the tent cities where so many infants sit at their tent door staring out into space; many people have no idea where their family members and friends have gone – are they somewhere in another tent, or are they dead?
If ever there was a human tragedy, this is it.
Today’s Gospel is all about the mission that Jesus gave his disciples – their marching orders, so to speak. Jesus tells the disciples to go out and to heal; he gives the disciples authority over unclean spirits; and, he warns the disciples that this will be no easy task. There will be hardships of all sorts; rejection, danger and even persecution.
Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.” He concludes with a sharp reminder that to be a disciple means choosing the way of the cross over the comfort of a familiar and comfortable lifestyle dedicated to love of self over love of God, by saying, “…whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who find their life for my sake will find it.”
Jesus is asking his disciples to show caring and compassion – to receive – even the lowliest, and to heal. Jesus tells his disciples that it is in caring, compassion and healing – in receiving those who are suffering, those who are in need, that they will find eternal life; the inner peace that only God can bestow both here on earth and for ever more. Jesus also makes it clear that being a disciple is not an easy job. It is a job that entails courage, leadership and all sorts of personal sacrifice.
We are the disciples of today. We are the ones who are being asked to take up the sword – to show caring and compassion – to receive even the lowliest, and to heal if we aspire to enter the Kingdom of Heaven; if we are to experience eternal life through a right relationship with God in the here and now.
There were others on my recent trip to Haiti – two nurses, a doctor, a businessman, and the executive director of NEHM. Only four of us were Episcopalian, but religious orientation really had nothing to do with the commitment to care and to heal that we all came away with after our brief but compelling visit.
Regardless of religious orientation, we all saw that the Spirit has been lost. It did not take an Episcopalian to figure that out. We all experienced heavy hearts, and feelings of being overwhelmed by the absolute and total destruction of a country and its people. We all mourned the loss of life, both literal and figurative, and we mourned the loss of hope for those who still live.
We all felt the need to take up the sword and to care, each with our own gifts for these brothers and sisters far less fortunate than we.
In his Letter To The Ephesians, Paul writes, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you might be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” He goes on to say, “As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace…take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all of the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
What marvelous imagery, “As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”
The future of Haiti is unknown. However, here in Nevada we have made a commitment to “take up the sword,” and “as shoes for our feet” to put on whatever will make us ready to bring caring, compassion and healing – to receive – our brothers and sisters at St. Luc’s Church and School and the Hospital Ste. Croix in Leogane, Haiti. It will take leadership and courage, it will be complex and hard work, and it will require sacrifices - that is what mission work is all about.
Today, I pray that you as well will find a mission that causes you to “take up a sword,” and “put on shoes” that will lead you to the caring and compassionate work your mission requires.
There are many “Haiti’s in this world. Las Vegas is filled with them.
Once again to quote St. Paul, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you…” AMEN
The Rev. Clelia Garrity is NEHM diocesan liaison for the diocese of Nevada and primary coordinator for NEHM's Haiti project. This project has two areas of focus: 1. To initiate a vaccination project for the children of Haiti; 2. To rehabilitate the Hospital St. Croix. Look for more updates in the coming months. You can see a Youtube video of our recent trip to Haiti here:
It is with great sadness that we note the passing of John Miers. John served NEHM as the diocesan liaison for the Diocese of Washington. He was a presenter at our first national conference and active with NEHM, especially around issues of Alzheimer's and HIV/AIDS. He wrote for this blog about 'invisible' disabilities, which you can read here. He will be dearly missed. -Matthew Ellis
John Miers died peacefully at his home on Thursday, June 2, 2011. His lifelong commitment to public service was evident in his lengthy career at the National Institutes of Health and matched by his service to his church, his advocacy for persons with disabilities, and a host of other volunteer activities. He received his AB and MBA from Cornell University. He is survived by his wife of nearly 43 years, Mary L. Miers; sister, Margaret Russitano; daughters Sarah Miers, Rachel Miers Hally (Malcolm), and Martha Holley-Miers (Meredith); and three beloved grandchildren.
The memorial service and interment of ashes took place on Friday, June 10 at 2 p.m. at St. James.
In lieu of flowers, donations should be made to St. Luke's House; Episcopal Relief + Development (please designate Haiti or Katrina relief); or the Episcopal Diocese of Washington Bishop's Appeal.
The link to this obituary in the Washington Post is here.