Abundant Health for All — Embracing Health Promotion Programs in the Faith-based Setting

“On any given Sunday there are millions of people attending church services. Faith-based communities offer a unique platform, serving as influential gatekeepers to a captive audience. People trust their pastors and their church. When sharing a message of health and wholeness with congregations, faith-based communities have the prime opportunity to improve health globally.”

A History of Health for the United Methodist Church

“The United Methodist Church (UMC) has been heavily involved in health since it’s inception. John Wesley, one of the founders of the denomination, not only preached spiritual health, but worked to restore physical health among the impoverished people who heard his call. He wrote Primitive Physick, a primer on health and medicine for those too poor to pay for a doctor. He encouraged his Methodists to support the health-care needs of the poor. For Wesley, health was integral to salvation. In the Wesleyan understanding of salvation, Christ’s self-giving on the cross not only freed us from the guilt of sin, but restored us to the divine image in which we were created, which includes health.

The denomination declares in the Book of Resolutions that “Health is the ultimate design of God for humanity. Though life often thwarts that design, the health we have is a good gift of God. When God created humankind, God declared it “was supremely good” (Genesis 1:31). Every account of Jesus’ ministry documents how Jesus saw restoration to health as a sign of the kingdom of heaven becoming present amongst us. When John the elder wrote to Gaius (3 John 2), he wished for him physical health no less than spiritual. The biblical narrative is filled with stories of God’s healing presence in the world. This includes spiritual, psychological, emotional, social, as well as physical healing.”

UMC Pursues Abundant Health for All

“Health continues to be a focus for the UMC. Our latest initiative is called Abundant Health. Abundant Health is centered on the verse John 10:10, “I came but you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” We recognize that physical health is just as important as spiritual health; we believe in a holistic approach – mind, body, and spirit. It’s our belief that when all of those elements are in an optimal state, or as optimal as possible, we have a healthy, whole, human being. As a denomination we’ve joined the United Nations, Every Woman, Every Child Campaign through which they are trying to reach 16 million women and children with lifesaving interventions by 2020. Following the theme Abundant Health for All, we pledged to reach 1 million children (of the 16 million) by 2020.

But this is only one component of the Abundant Health initiative. The other avenue is engaging churches to be more health promoting, to serve as models of change reaching outside their walls to impact communities in ways that they’ve never imagined. We’ve encouraged churches to be more health promoting by either focusing on increased activity, diet and nutrition, mental health, or substance abuse. We’ve been very intentional not to impose what we think a church should do. The issues relevant to a church are very contextual, changing from church to church, and region to region. Abundant Health inspires churches to assess the health of their congregation and community, identifying available opportunities and to building upon them. Our churches heeded the call, we’ve seen great work being done by the churches, organizations and affiliates out there really impacting change in their communities.”

Creating Community Engagement with Fun Kickoff Events

“In our previous health campaign, Imagine No Malaria, the UMC focused on fundraising and raised over 70 million dollars to combat malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. When conceptualizing Abundant Health we realized that we wanted this initiative to go beyond funding and into community engagement. We want churches to be involved, taking ownership of the work, and becoming active participants in evoking the change. We felt one way to support this transition in focus would be to hold an event – Hulapalooza. Hulapalooza became the way the UMC engaged congregations in fun health promotion and spread the word about Abundant Health. Hula-hooping is a fun activity that engages the whole body; it can be incorporated in a group or a solo activity. Hula hooping brings out children, adolescents, young adults, middle-aged people, and even the elderly! We held 4 beta launches in Europe, Zimbabwe, the U.S., and the Philippines. But, it’s not just an event where you come out and learn to hula-hoop! It’s centered on overall health and the mind-body-spirit connection. Attendees leave with the information and education about health and wellbeing in addition to awareness of future activities and programs they can participate in. Now, there is a Hulapalooza starter kit available online so churches or conferences can kick-start their own Abundant Health initiatives.”

Physical Activity Programming in Faith-Based Settings

“Many churches have focused on physical activity through Abundant Health. The Church for All People is located on the south side of Columbus, Ohio in an impoverished neighborhood which border a more affluent area. The church decided to address the social determinants of health affecting the lives of the low-income families nearby. It began with a free clothing store that encouraged shoppers of all backgrounds to break down barriers and develop new relationships. From there they launched many other components including a healthy eating and living program. They’re teaching members of the community to cook healthier and offering exercise classes three nights a week. Beneficiaries of this program say the church made health fun and exciting. They’re doing aerobics, losing weight, improving blood pressure, and getting more active, all while having fun and building community.

Abundant Health stresses finding existing resources and matching them to community needs. St. Luke UMC in Augusta, Georgia was dwindling in size and facing the possibility of closure. The congregation realized their community was dying and decided to reach outside their walls. The church started a health initiative including walking clubs, physical activity programs, and nutrition education. They utilized space within the church building that wasn’t being used, to offer aerobics and cooking classes. Another church in Virginia wanted to address the fact that one third of children in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Overweight and obesity puts children at increased risk for hypertension, cancer, and other non-communicable diseases later in life. This congregation chose to incorporate physical activity into their existing vacation bible school programs through volleyball challenges, basketballs, soccer, and jump roping competitions.”

Fitting Health into the UMC Organizational Structure

“The organizational structure of the UMC is comprised of 13 agencies representing different areas of focus. One of the 13 is Global Ministries, within which the Global Health unit is housed. The Global Health unit leads the Abundant Health initiative and is managed by 11 staff members, including an Executive Director, four project managers, and several program assistants. This group spearheads all of the work that goes on at the agency level for the program and manages a large network of partners and participating churches. As a grant funding organization, UMC engages other faith-based organizations, and community organizations partners working to reach the 1 million children goal. Amongst the UMC, 22 of 59 conferences have signed on to be more health promoting. These conferences have appointed a health ambassador to help lead the Abundant Health initiative. Health ambassadors work to assist churches in establishing health ministries and implementing Abundant Health. It is only with the support of this diverse network that Abundant Health can make a difference and reach its goals. Although we’ve reached nearly 500,000 of the 1 million children, and seen communities embrace health in new and exciting ways, there’s still plenty more work to be done!”

Oliver Bartzsch is an experienced medical professional with over 15 years of professional experience. With a passion for medicine, fitness, and personal growth, he is always willing to challenge himself to accomplish tasks and especially to provide accurate medical information to people. Oliver is a long-time medical editor for multiple sites. With more than 10 years of medical writing experience, he has completed over 350 projects with both individual and corporate clients.


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