As an assistant pastor at the Pasadena Church of God, Pastor Glovioell Rowland recognized an alarming trend: She was attending too many funerals for people who had passed away prematurely due to chronic health illnesses, most of which were related to obesity.
"I thought, 'What do I do to intervene?'" Pastor Rowland said. It was then that she learned about "Body & Soul," an initiative of the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The program encourages African American church members to be more active, and eat healthful diets rich in fruits and vegetables. "It just makes sense for people to get the bulk of their diet from fruits and vegetables," she said.
In 1999, the Pasadena Church of God implemented the "Body & Soul" program, and Pastor Rowland became the church's pastor of health. Using sermons and Bible studies; as well as church events and activities such as walking clubs, health screenings, active outings, and cooking demonstrations; the church's leadership challenged its congregation to engage in healthful nutrition.
While some parishioners were slow to adopt this new, healthful way of life, it is now integrated into every action and activity of the church. "We've created an environment that says, 'We're going to live and be in good health together,'" Pastor Rowland said.
The church made simple changes that are making a difference in its parishioners' lives. All carbonated drinks were removed from the church vending machine, and replaced with bottled water and 100 percent juice. Meals offered at church functions are now low fat and low salt. Fried chicken is no longer served at funerals; instead, baked chicken with healthful side dishes are served. A full-size basketball court was painted in the parking lot behind the church.
"When I see a child eat a piece of fruit instead of a piece of candy, it makes me happy. When I see that our parishioners have more energy, it excites me," said Pastor Rowland. "My goal is for our church to be the healthiest church in the world!"
She just might get her wish. Since the church began implementing the "Body & Soul" program, Pastor Rowland said that there are fewer hospital visitations, as well as fewer cases of depression and grief stemming from the premature loss of loved ones.
"I believe that being our best inside and out -- body and soul -- makes us more effective human beings," she said. "When we're vibrant and healthy, we're spiritually more powerful."