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Churches mix physical, spiritual for better health

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As a former registered nurse, Judy Rhude understands the importance of good health. And as a member of First Baptist Church’s health ministry team, she wants others to understand that.

“We hear that all the time,” Rhude said. “But I’m not sure how many of us actually believe it.”

Rhude hopes to get an amen to healthy living among her church peers and other residents with a six-week faith-and-fitness program, “The Daniel Plan.” It launches at 6 p.m. Wednesday at First Baptist, 3300 Fairlawn Drive in Columbus.

The program, with a $10 cost for California pastor Rick Warren’s book bearing the program’s name, runs through Sept. 24.

It’s among the more recent local initiatives blending spiritual and physical elements — faith, food, fitness, focus and friends, as Warren outlines it — toward a goal of wholeness. Rhude mentioned that her pastor, the Rev. Dan Cash, has used the Daniel Plan successfully in the past.

She believes that she and others can feel the same success, too, partly motivated by one key reminder.

“The Bible says that our bodies are God’s temple,” Rhude said.

Body-and-soul approaches to health in the faith community, here and elsewhere, have been around a while.

Locally, Beth Morris, director of community partnerships for Columbus Regional Health, once supervised a Parish Nursing Action Team more than a decade ago in Columbus.

In the initiative that lasted about four years, several local churches boasted mostly part-time nurses coordinating elements ranging from educational workshops to healthy pitch-in ideas.

For example, one church replaced post-service doughnut holes with bits of fresh fruit for a time.

“But we were never able to get much traction,” Morris said, and the program was discontinued.

Other programs, though, are gaining momentum.

GODFIT grows

One, GODFIT, began a couple of years ago at Terrace Lake Community Church in Columbus. It since has spread to nine churches, including at least two beyond Columbus. Plus, the physical workouts and brief Bible studies on topics such as prayer recently expanded to Terrace Lake’s vacation Bible school, called GODFIT kids challenge.

Youngsters age 4 through fifth grade were taught Bible stories mixed with corresponding physical activities. For instance, after participants read the biblical account of a paralyzed man’s determined friends taking him to Jesus for healing, the kids enjoyed gurney races.

“Part of it involved engaging the kids in a different way and giving them another way to relate to Bible stories,” GODFIT founder John Hayden said.

GODFIT’s bottom line remains the same: to help people strengthen their personal health to better serve others in whatever way God leads.

First Christian Church in Columbus will launch six weeks of GODFIT beginning Sept. 21. Senior minister Justin White will discuss each of the program’s six disciplines — solitude, meditation, prayer, simplicity, study and service — in his sermon series over that time period.

He hopes to dispel some erroneous beliefs.

“There’s a misconception that a person’s spiritual life and his/her physical life are two separate entities,” White said. “It’s also untrue that God only cares about a person’s spiritual life. Remember, it was God himself that placed man in a physical garden, gave man a physical body and charged him with the task of managing the physical creation.”

White said he would like to see ministries put a higher priority on overall health. But he realizes that making time for regular intervals of exercise can be challenging.

“But I also believe that when we come to understand that our physical health will more easily allow us to become and do what God has called us to do, that should be motivation enough for us to get off the couch and start doing something,” White said.

Following along

Other churches, such as Sandy Hook United Methodist in Columbus, have taken such steps before while using The Daniel Plan. Staff and volunteers recently began discussing the possibility of offering the class again early next year.

The Rev. Dennis McCarty, pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus, believes that people have “a covenant with our bodies,” whether they have such an awareness or not. Nearly 30 years ago, when he grew so overweight that he failed a physical exam for a new job, he came to a realization that put him on an exercise regimen.

“Covenants get broken,” he said. “(But) they need to be renewed.”

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