Cross-posted at BCBSNC Foundation.
My faith journey began at an early age and in a somewhat nontraditional way. I fondly remember attending weekly prayer meetings and Bible studies at my grandmother’s house in rural North Carolina. Community members would come from all around to worship together in a small, weather-beaten house at the end of a long dirt path. They would read scriptures, sing songs and tell stories of how they were able to overcome various obstacles throughout the week. At the time, I didn’t fully understand how folks who had just lost their jobs, received less than encouraging doctors’ reports or were in the midst of marital or other familial turmoil could still come together in praise and worship – not as victims, but as victors…. It was quite a remarkable thing to witness; one that has stayed with me throughout my adult life.
I now recognize the source of hope, inspiration and strength that so many who worshipped at my grandmother’s house were drawing from – their faith. It is this same source that I draw from on a daily basis as Program Coordinator of the North Carolina Council of Churches’ faith-based health initiative, Partners in Health and Wholeness (PHW). The mission of PHW is to promote health as a practice of faith and to improve the health of clergy and congregants through increased physical activity, healthy eating and tobacco use prevention and cessation.
My interest in faith-based health stems from my previous employment at the NC Division of Public Health, academic training at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and many years of watching loved ones suffer or die prematurely from poor health. My own beloved mother, who celebrated her 56th birthday earlier this month, is now wheelchair-bound after breaking both of her hips, after more than a decade of undergoing dialysis, following years of uncontrolled hypertension. I know first-hand the financial and emotional toll that is placed on a family when what starts out as a minor – or better yet, preventable – problem becomes a significant one requiring costly medical intervention. Thankfully, my family’s strong foundation in the faith and large support network has helped us to manage quite well in the face of adversity.
Not all families in North Carolina and across the U.S. are so fortunate, however. For that reason, the North Carolina Council of Churches has made it our charge to emphasize the connection between faith and health – demonstrating that our faith is not only there to draw on after we receive a bad doctor’s report, but to help people of faith make healthier choices in the first place…. To facilitate congregations to serve as health promotion centers in the community, touching the lives of countless North Carolinians without a medical home.
How are we doing? More than 7,000 individuals now attend a congregation in North Carolina that has made the health of its members a top priority by participating in the Council’s PHW Certification Program and other health-related activities. And we are working hard to expand this reach. To learn more about these efforts and how you can get involved, please visit www.healthandwholeness.org.
-Willona Stallings, PHW Program Coordinator