The Little Church That CouldBy Sandra Knispel | Published 09 Dec 2011 10:01am |
Nearly 17 years ago, a pastor at a small African-American church in Hernando found that the traditional Delta diet of fried anything had produced a super-sized congregation. He set out to change that. MPB’s Sandra Knispel has this story of the little church that could...
[Nat. sound choir singing]
On a recent Sunday morning, rainy and wind swept, roughly 70 members of Oak Hill Baptist Church in Hernando worship with their pastor Michel O. Minor at this small, rural church on the hill.
“Jesus was concerned about daily living. I know some folks are givin’ me a hard time because I talk about health," Minor says. "Why the church should be concerned about health? But look at Jesus. Amen. He was concerned about people well being. We got to be concerned about our fellow man, our fellow woman. We’ve got to learn to use what we’ve got."
And while today’s sermon is really about Jesus as his flock’s guide, pastor Minor can’t resist a quick detour to his own hobbyhorse.
“But what Jesus is teaching and showing us is that we’ve got to be concerned and care about the whole person – mind, body and soul! If you’re sick how can you come to church and really get into worship?" [applause, yes sir.]
Minor has been a pastor at Oak Hill for nearly 17 years.
“It was real simple. When I first arrived here I saw several round members that has special sizes. And those special sizes weren’t going to be sustainable in the long-term. And I said, ’What can I do to help them get off those special sizes?’ “
So he began the quest to slim down his flock. First Minor banned fried foods from church dinners, then he taught them how to cook healthful meals.
“Cause a lot of our folks now if they can’t do it in three minutes on a microwave, they are not interested at all in trying to prepare [food]. So, it’s a combination of letting them know it’s not o.k. to be of a special size. And the other thing is educating them on how to do it. I think we just make the – have the misunderstanding that people know what to do.”
While his congregation may not be mistaken for a group of aerobics instructors, very few are now truly obese. Many still need to lose weight, but the message has sunk in.
“Well, I’ve lost some and I have regained it, but the teaching on healthy living has really helped me. It’s helped me to exercise more, to eat right and put away the salt and it’s helping my blood pressure, too.”
Mary Bledsoe is the church’s choir director. She’s been part of the congregation her entire life, some 40+ years. At first, she says, change was hard.
“I used to be stuck on Pepsis. I would have to have to or three Pepsis a day. And with my pastor teaching and preaching to us about healthy living I’ve given up the Pepsis and I only do chips every now and then.”
If any state needs to ditch the sodas and chips it’s this one. Just this week, a national report ranked Mississippi again dead last in overall health. More than one in three Mississippians is obese. Fixing the mess won’t be easy says Governor Haley Barbour.
“Mississippi has the highest incidences of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Sometimes the literally worst in the United States. Our health disparities are primarily related to poor eating habits and lack of exercise.”
But to pastor Minor shedding the weight is not just about improving health and extending life expectancy.
“As a Christian I don’t believe anything belongs to us. It belongs to God and we should take of it. We may not have a house, a car. But all of us have bodies and God blessed us with our bodies. What we need to do since God blessed us with it – it’s a gift – that we should take care of that gift the best way that we can.”
Meanwhile Minor’s idea has gone national through an outreach program of the National Baptist Convention. He’s been invited back to the White House…this time to present to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign his ideas for improving the health of faith-based groups. And although his flock may grow weary of hearing the chorus on healthy lifestyle over and over he’s not about to let down his guard.
“Everybody is a recovering food addict. So, if you don’t keep reinforcing that message they are one piece of fried chicken away from going back to the old ways.”
One small sign that it’s working might be that the pastor’s wife who was trying to give away leftover cake after the service found not a single taker. One congregant sighed, patted her belly and told her that she really did not need to put on any extra weight before the holidays.
Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Hernando.
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