Caring for congregation members’ spiritual health is a core value of any church. But Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church of Cedar Rapids has taken that to a new level by establishing a wellness program that embraces both body and soul – literally.
Mt. Zion has adopted the “Body and Soul” wellness program developed for African American churches by the National Cancer Institute, empowering its multi-ethnic church members to live healthier, more active lives and eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. This is especially vital because African Americans are at greater risk for developing serious chronic diseases such as cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
In 2008, congregation members Paulette Clark and Pearlie Griggs attended a health fair hosted by the Iowa Cancer Consortium to learn more about “Body and Soul.” They worked to implement the program at Mt. Zion to integrate physical and spiritual health, providing wellness activities for church members such as healthy cooking demonstrations, health screenings, and exercise and fitness classes. The church has also adopted healthy meal policies for church events, replacing doughnuts and fried foods with more healthy choices.
Parishioners’ spiritual needs are the main priority at Mt. Zion, Pastor Damian Epps says, “but it’s also important to talk about topics related to a healthy body as well as a healthy soul.”
Last fall, Mt. Zion sought funding from the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation to expand on existing wellness initiatives. A $6,780 Community Foundation grant enabled Mt. Zion to buy fitness equipment for weekly fitness classes held at the church, and to buy healthy fruits and vegetables to be used at healthy cooking demonstrations and tasting events.
Since receiving the grant, Clark notes, “We have seen steady growth in ‘Body and Soul’ activities. Everybody gets involved – kids and adults – especially in fitness classes.”
Now there are as many as 50 kids involved in classes on fitness, nutrition and cooking. Exercise classes are a key component and now draw participants ranging in age from their teens to their 80s.
The program’s success has led to opening fitness classes to the community, and efforts are underway to work with other churches to establish similar wellness programs.
As Clark explains, “We want our church to be an example for other churches.”
Program Grant Fund
Fund Purpose: Support programmatic innovation and sustainability
Grant Award: $6,780