Local churchgoers are emerging from a 40-day challenge that they say has nourished their minds, bodies and spirits.
It was no retreat like Jesus’ desert sojourn involving fasting and praying but a healthful pilgrimage for nearly a hundred pastors, congregational leaders and “wellness disciples” from seven Durham churches.
The Congregational Wellness Challenge culminated in the Florence Forth 5K Run/Walk along Ninth Street in Durham to raise money for the Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group that spreads the word and supports efforts to cure autoimmune encephalitis, a rare condition in which the immune system attacks the brain.
The race drew a few hundred runners from around the country, and Wellness Challenge participants joined in to support the cause and celebrate their own successes.
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The challenge was a way to be more involved with the church and encourage fellow Christians to live healthier, said Erika and Sam Quaile, Durham residents who attend Christ Central Church. They want to help with nutrition and other classes in the future, Erika Quaile said.
Their challenge, they said, lay in finding time to be still, to reflect and to share their lives with others.
“It was good to be more mindful about how much time we are spending (reading) the Bible,” Erika Quaile said, and also to be “outdoors and (doing) those things that are life-giving, that aren’t nutrition or exercise like we would normally think are aspects of healthiness.”
Bringing church families together and providing the support and knowledge to help them live more holistically were the challenge goals, said Rachel Meyer, director of program development and operations for the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke Divinity School.
It kicked off Jan. 23 with support from the nonprofit DurhamCares and Bull City Forward, as well as local businesses that offered tips for healthy cooking. They have made health screenings available to the group, Meyer said, and will survey participants about their experience.
In addition to diet and exercise, challenge participants set aside time for prayer and Bible study to feed their spirits, joined community service efforts and indulged in favorite hobbies to ease their minds. Their congregations provided support through prayer and health-focused events.
They hope the lessons learned will sustain the program and get more churches involved statewide, Meyer said. One congregation, CityWell Church, plans to keep the challenge going, she said.
The Clergy Health Initiative is part of an $18 million, seven-year program funded by The Duke Endowment to help the state’s United Methodist clergy live healthier lives. A 2002 national survey of more than 2,500 religious leaders found that 76 percent were overweight or obese, compared with 61 percent of the general population, and had higher than average incidence of diabetes, hypertension and depression.
Pastors work long hours in demanding jobs and often ignore their own well-being to care for others, Meyer said. Much of their work also involves social interactions and food, at special events and potlucks, said Carl Weisner, the health initiative’s senior director.
“We hear these stories about they have to have some of everything, otherwise someone will get a little bit upset,” Weisner said.
Roughly 64 percent of the state’s 1,756 eligible clergy completed the multiyear Spirited Life wellness program and behavioral health study. After losing weight and seeing their health improve, they wanted a way to take the program to their congregations, Meyer said.
Durham resident David Johnson said the Rev. George Linney, of the Tobacco Trail Church, inspired him to start running again. Linney’s church walks the trail in worship most Sunday evenings.
The Wellness Challenge has changed his life in little ways, Johnson said, helping him feel more emotionally grounded and patient.
“I already have that from the Lord,” he said, “but it’s always good to work on things, because we have challenges (from living) in the real world.”
Learn more about the Clergy Health Initiative and related programs by contacting Rachel Meyer at 919-613-5350 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.