Stephanie Paulsell of the Harvard School of Divinity will be the 19th speaker of the Laws Peacemaking Lecture series when she presents “Healthy Communities: An Issue For People of Faith” at First Presbyterian Church next week.
The Rev. Robert Craig, head pastor at First Presbyterian, said this year’s lecture is co-sponsored by the Healthy Communities Initiative and Interfaith Forum of Columbus in an effort to make the programming accessible and welcoming to a larger section of the community.
“Our church has the dollars to bring these great speakers here, but what good is it if only a few people hear them?” Craig said.
The Healthy Communities Initiative was formed in 1994 with a goal of improving Columbus residents’ health through a variety of programs targeting smoking, domestic violence and obesity among other public health concerns. Interfaith Forum of Columbus was founded in 2001 as a means of promoting interfaith dialogue in Columbus.
Craig, who sits on the Healthy Communities board, said the partnership was a natural fit.
“Health has spiritual aspects, and we want to remind people of faith that supporting a healthy community is part of their faith journey,” Craig said.
Paulsell, whose father, William O. Paulsell, was a pastor at North Christian Chuch in the 1990s, said it was this multilayered partnership that initially drew her to the lecture.
“The issue of a healthy community is a social issue, a political issue, but it’s also a spiritual one,” she said.
Paulsell is author of “Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice,” which used insight from the Christian faith to encourage expression and acceptance of the human body while remaining mindful of its vulnerabilities.
She said that while her book is written from a Christian viewpoint, her lecture will use wisdom she has gained from her studies in Buddhism, Islam and Judaism, as well as Christianity. For example, she pointed out that several religions share the conviction that man was created in God’s image, and that by honoring and respecting one’s body, God is honored by extension. Similarly, most religions value peaceful communities.
“We don’t just want to learn about other religions,” Paulsell said. “We want to learn from them.”
She said that one of the
issues targeted by Healthy Communities, and one that she will touch on during her lecture, is obesity, not just how we each personally take responsibility for our own nutritional health, but also in terms of food that is available in our communities, and how we learn to eat together, regardless of socioeconomic status.
“Bodies really matter to God,” Paulsell said. “And every body is worthy of blessing and care.”
She said while religious people have notions of justice, equality and responsibility to our fellow man that are valuable to discussions about community concerns, they sometimes don’t share them in a spiritual context for fear of offending others.
“We’re often reluctant to bring resources we have to the table,” she said. “But there is so much spiritual wisdom that can teach us about what it means to care for each other.”
This year, the Laws Lecture will be accompanied with parallel programming for youth, which is designed to give school-aged children tools for finding peace and connection with their bodies and spirituality.
William Laws, for whom the lecture series is named, was pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Columbus from 1950 to 1976. He was also a civil rights leader and advocate for youth. Upon his death in 1985, friends and family donated money to create the Laws Peacemaking Lecture Series.
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