Dear Friends in Faith,
I pray that the new year finds you well, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. As we begin this year, we extend the invitation to you to participate our wellness program, and see it as vital ministry. While our plan provides financial incentives for us to strive for good health, our efforts are most important in helping us engage in good ministry. To have healthy churches, we strive to be healthy pastors and witnesses for Jesus Christ. Here are some ways that I have experienced and observed wellness as a vital ministry:
Personal Growth In Stewardship
In the early years of my adult life, I was in good shape, maintaining an average weight, yet every year my weight would edge up a little. In response to the call of ordained ministry, I took classes during the day and worked on third shift. The transition and routine was disruptive to my eating habits and I gained a lot of weight, very quickly. It affected my work, sleep, and energy level.
As I sought a deeper relationship with God and envisioned the responsibilities of ministry, I knew my lifestyle needed to change. I changed my eating habits and walked. My efforts began to pay off; I lost weight and gained more energy. As my wife Julie and I were married, it became very clear that in order to take good care of her, I needed to take good care of my health and our health together. In the same way, to be more effective in ministry, to really love our loved ones, and the fellowships we serve in Christ, caring for our health must be a top priority. Ministerial family life creates its own special challenges; transitions and changes often threaten our health. Intentionally creating ways to stay healthy is vital to faithful stewardship and effective ministry.
Good Health Honors Christ and Parishioners
As ordained disciples seeking to grow in faith and ministerial practices, we have been taught by Christ to be good stewards of all the resources we are entrusted with, including accepting and offering healing and good health. We are frequently entrusted with the honor of serving people through severe illness that often leads to death. It is a humbling experience and process to share. During these times we can see more clearly how precious the miracle of life is, prompting us to do our best to be good stewards of our health. As we grow to love and care for parishioners, we can either honor, or dishonor their walk, by the way we are faithful or not with our health. Imagine a parishioner lying in a hospital bed, fighting to get well or fighting for life, being visited by a pastor; the one who is more dedicated to good health is most likely to provide good pastoral care.
Exercise as Prayer Time with God,
We can approach the time spent in exercise, whether it be walking, riding a bike, or working in the gym, as an opportunity to spend as prayer time with God. Being aware of God’s presence with us at all times can take exercise to a deeper, broader realm; it becomes a very practical way to embody salvation and transformation in real, effective, and energetic ways. Prayer-filled exercise can lead us to seek God more in the present moment, meditate more upon the people we are in fellowship with, while preparing us more completely for the future, as we use the time to envision ministry.
Exercise Leads to Blessings
When I began riding my bike, I saw the community I served more clearly and deeply. I was more accessible; it created opportunities to build relationships and community. I’d stop to talk with people, listen to their hearts and what was happening in their lives. Additionally, our church decided to go out into the community on prayer walks as a way of opening our minds and hearts to serve the community. It helped us understand and embody the way Jesus engaged with a variety of people, including young adults.
After riding bikes together in a group of men from church, one young father was drawn to take Christ into his heart, be baptized, and join the church’s fellowship. Our Conference seeks to create times when we can share fellowship with young adults, and exercise can create those opportunities. Many of our retiring pastors have often expressed that they were drawn into the church as young adults by playing softball, volleyball, or bowling. Physical, emotional, and spiritual experiences were integrated together to form into God’s call to deepen faith and friendships, strengthening life and fellowship together.
An Assertive, Proactive Community
As we envision the future, our churches can become centers of vitality, health, and wellness. Instead of only responding to illness and crisis, we can work to prevent them. In the footsteps of Jesus, we can create healthy lives that are energetic and full of joy. As United Methodists, our heritage teaches us that we need one another to encourage faithful growth in Christ, which must include good health. We have unique opportunities to grow and claim community together, when we set wellness at the center.
The Practical Side
Exercise and wellness over the long term help us lower our healthcare costs and help to maintain a limit on heath insurance premiums. Our workloads are often heavy, and exercise and good health are a often dream put off for “some day.” But heavy workloads call us to make health and wellness a higher priority, to be integrated into ministries now, or we are likely to burnout as individuals and as congregations. Starting in 2012 the financial incentives in our plan will be deposited directly into our Health Savings Accounts. So we invite all of us to encourage each other to make wellness a critical part of our foundation for ministry. God’s blessing to all for a healthy year.
Rev. Timothy Carl Anderman