Health ministry strengthens faith
Congregations are faith communities and gathering places of wellness – for soul, body and mind.
By Marcia Hahn
Sandra Burroughs knows firsthand what a difference good health has made in her own life, and now she is helping others improve their health and their connection to God.
Sandra serves as pastor for two rural congregations in Iowa – St. John Lutheran Church – Buck Creek in Sumner, and St. Peter Lutheran Church in Oran – where she leads spirit-filled wellness and fitness classes to help people get active and learn about wellness, nutrition and exercise with a Christian perspective.
“I believe the mind, body and spirit are so much more connected than we generally think,” said Sandra. “Combining all three together in a class opens a much deeper level of what we want to work on to get healthier and grow more whole.”
Sandra developed the classes based on Revelation Wellness, a non-profit ministry dedicated to educating and inspiring people to live healthy and whole lives in Christ. Sandra became a certified facilitator through the program and began her fitness ministry in response to requests from congregation members wanting guidance in health and weight management.
A picture of health today, Sandra struggled with health issues for 30 years until she was diagnosed with celiac disease, a digestive and autoimmune disorder that results in damage to the lining of the small intestine when foods with gluten are eaten – a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. When she was finally diagnosed and stopped eating gluten, Sandra said she was in a new place she had never experienced before in her life.
“Once I got to this new level of feeling good, then everything else in my life changed,” said Sandra. “You’re open to so much more, to doing so much more in your life.
Classes offer a spiritual approach
Sandra’s eight-week Spirit-Filled Wellness class focuses on Bible study, education and support -– rather than calories and exercise – to help participants develop a weight-loss and fitness plan based on what works for their lives and their relationship with God. Each class member is assigned a prayer partner and daily Bible verses for support and inspiration. They learn that when they weigh less and are healthier, they are better able to share their gifts and service with others as Christians.
Some two dozen people from age 9 to 74 have joined in Sandra’s Spirit-Filled Fitness classes, offered in the basement of St. Peter three times a week. The hour-long sessions open and close with Scripture and devotion, with plenty of fun and games in-between. With Christian music playing in the background, Sandra leads class members in cardio, stretching, balance and strength exercises, and a variety of games that use balloons, pool noodles, weighted hula hoops, jump ropes, rhythm sticks and other props to keep the sessions as fun as possible.
“The more fun we can make it, the better. Some people have said they don’t even realize they are exercising.”
Class member, Janet Judisch, says that the fitness classes are great for the soul, mind and body. “I feel so much better after class,” said Janet. “We work hard, laugh a little and encourage each other. Our bodies are being sculpted to be healthy and strong, and that is an awesome feeling. The Scripture reading and motivational pep talk set our minds on positive things – something I really need.”
Sandra believes that opening the sessions with Scripture trains people’s faith, as well as their bodies and minds. The background Christian music reinforces the day’s devotion to help people open their heart and mind to hear God’s voice speaking to them. Throughout the sessions Sandra connects the physical with the spiritual, pointing out that holding a stretch for a long time is like waiting for God.
“People are so accustomed to hearing messages that they are too fat or not good enough. In these sessions, we use God’s message that you are strong and God will be with you through weakness. That is so critical for total health and wellness,” said Sandra.
Anyone can afford to get fit
The fitness ministry was developed as an extension of two other ministries offered through the congregations – His Hands Food Pantry and the Helping Hands Clothing Closet. Classes are free, except for the purchase of the Bible study book.
“I really feel strongly that there are people in this community who don’t or can’t get to a gym or exercise program because of the cost or distance,” said Sandra. “For me it’s a justice issue for people at lower incomes who can’t afford this kind of thing.”
Participants are already seeing results. One woman has lost 15 pounds in two months. Another had problems with her hip, shoulders and feet, and that has gone away through strengthening and stretching. Another who was reluctant to join says her body and spirit are changing.
Sandra emphasizes that the classes are not about perfection but about progress. “It doesn’t matter what level of fitness people are at when they come in, I just want them to make some progress.”
“It is a great way to learn what God intends for our mind, body and spirit in a fun supportive atmosphere,” said class participant Anne McClain.
Marcia Hahn is coordinator for communications and events for the ELCA Northeastern Iowa Synod.