United Methodists help form regional health board


Special to the Advocate

Despite icy roads, more than 20 hearty souls gathered in Holly Springs in January to participate in a health ministry workshop conducted by a Methodist nurse who has established a statewide system of church health ministries.

Now, the effort is expanding to almost 1,000 North Mississippi churches.

The Advisory Board for Healthy Congregations, a coalition of six denominations representing nearly 1,000 churches, seeks to improve the health and fitness of children and adults in North Mississippi through faith-based health ministries, including advocacy for community improvements that impact health and fitness.

Senatobia District Superintendent the Rev. Vicki Sizemore Tandy and Cheryl Denley, of the district staff, serve on the Advisory Board representing The United Methodist Church. 

The Rev. Embra Jackson, assistant to the bishop, joined Tandy and others at Asbury United Methodist Church for a full day of practical information on implementing health ministries in churches throughout North Mississippi.

Rosetta Swinton, a registered nurse and a member of the AME Church in South Carolina, explained how she had started with her own local church and then spread the health ministries to hundreds of her denomination’s churches in South Carolina. Her work contributed to that state’s Plan to Prevent Obesity and the chronic diseases associated with obesity.

Partnerships with the faith community are critical to addressing obesity and other health issues because the faith community can provide sustained social support in implementing and maintaining healthy behaviors, can communicate healthy messages to congregation members as well as hard-to-reach family members, and churches have expertise in mobilizing volunteers.  

Churches have their work cut out because obesity and life expectancy rates in Mississippi are among the worst in the country. Research has shown that obesity is a major factor in a long list of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, some forms of cancer and other health issues.

A regional conference in October 2009 will offer a wide variety of workshops and an opportunity to learn about best practices in the Delta.

This year’s efforts were born out of a 2005 faith-based health summit in DeSoto County convened by the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, which supports the regional faith-based effort through its Get A Life! Initiative.

For a tool kit full of information to help start or enhance a health ministry in your church, contact the Get A Life! office at 662-298-0027 or judy@kidsgetalife.org.