On the ball ... Anderson UMC targets physical, spiritual health


By LaRaye Brown

The Clarion-Ledger

The Rev. Joe May walked into Anderson United Methodist Church on July 30 dressed in a suit he hadn’t been able to wear for more than two years.


For years, doctors told the diabetic of 11 years to lose weight, but the latest lecture shouldered him with a grim prediction: dialysis, blindness and death.

He not only wanted lasting results, he needed them.


This time the preacher put his faith into his struggle, and he challenged his congregation to do the same.


“I had to set an example,” said May, 54, who has lost 40 pounds since June.

As Americans’ waistlines continue their expansions, pushing heart rates and scales north with them, many are turning to a holistic approach in hopes of lasting results.


Count May among scores of people who are seeking religious direction in the battle for healthy living.


First Place, a faith-based program started in Houston, Texas, in 1981, claims half a million members at more than 12,000 churches. People in Hattiesburg and Meridian are among those offering testimonials on the group’s Web site.

It’s a program Forest Hill United Methodist Church has incorporated into Wellness Tuesdays. Classes began earlier this month and run through December.


Clinton resident and Forest Hill member Pat Martz lost 26 pounds while participating in two previous classes.


“If we acknowledge that our body is the temple of God, we should take care of our body – physical, mental and spiritual,” the 58-year-old said. “It was just a nice outlet for building a stronger foundation of belief and honoring what the Bible tells us to do.”



Some churches are basing their activities, in part, on scripture, including what Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, who have received from God? You are not your own ...”


The Rev. Embra Jackson, administrative assistant to Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, helps with the weight loss program at Anderson. Jackson is also in charge of health and wellness for United Methodist churches across the state. At Anderson, he offers religious-based inspiration using Fit 4, a Lifeway Christian Wellness Plan.


The Fit 4 Web site said its plan is based on a passage in Mark where God commands followers to love him with their hearts, souls, minds and strength, the source of the program’s name.


May credits John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Wesley, he said, preached physical fitness.


May challenged his members to pray for the wellness of the congregation, participate in physical activity, come to a meeting every two weeks and begin a dietary program.


‘Biggest Loser’

Anderson added its name to that of a popular reality television show and came up with Anderson’s Biggest Loser.


The 180 individuals who signed up for the program were divided into four groups. The group that loses the most pounds will win a prize, which has yet to be revealed.


The message struck a cord with Robin Smothers.


“I said it was my calling,” she said. “I’m 26 and I have high blood pressure. I’ve been at stroke level before and I’m tired of buying new clothes.”


Since starting the program, she’s dropped a clothing size.


“It’s a spiritual thing as well, not just to look good,” she said. “It’s being healthy so that you can be here. I have a 3-year-old, so that’s important to me.”


Anderson added an aerobics class to its activity list to help members achieve their goals. Anderson’s program runs through October, giving members a break during the holiday feasting season.


It starts again in January, when May said his congregation will challenge members at New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson.


Until then, May will continue his new lifestyle of eating in moderation and walking four to five miles a day. “The first thing is to realize you can’t do it by yourself,” May said. “You have to rely on a higher power.”