Baltimore Churches Partner for ‘Food and Faith’ Program to Encourage Healthier Living Among Congregants

Baltimore Food and Faith Project, a Johns Hopkins Medicine Office of Community Health initiative, hosts six-week nutrition-focused Bible studies for local churches. The part Scripture-based lesson, part food demonstration and tastings aim to help faith communities educate their congregants on healthier eating habits within a Christian framework.

As members of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in North Baltimore take turns reading Scripture aloud from the Book of Daniel in the Bible, a nutrition educator at the back of the room cuts cucumbers, apples and watercress in a rhythmic motion, filling the air with a fresh and crisp aroma as she prepares a salad.

“Your healthiness and your holiness all goes together,” says the Rev. Harold L. Knight to the attendees, summarizing the passages in which Daniel and his men refused to eat royal food and wine, despite it possibly insulting the king and risking their lives. Instead, the men used their faith and opted for vegetables and water for 10 days.

“At the end of the 10 days, they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food,” the Bible stated, and they were blessed for their sacrifice.

The evening Bible study — part Scripture-based lesson, part food demonstration and tasting — is a course hosted by the Baltimore Food and Faith Project, a Johns Hopkins Medicine Office of Community Health initiative that helps faith communities educate their congregants on healthier eating habits within a Christian framework.

“Some have an understanding of Christianity that is centered only around their spiritual state and what happens to them after they die,” said the Rev. Heber Brown III, who has been pastor of the church for nine years. “But … salvation and Christianity is just as much concerned about our physical, emotional, psychological health, as it is our spiritual health.”

The six-week curriculum offered to churches within the Baltimore area is just one of the many faith-based health and fitness initiatives sprouting up around the region in hopes of educating congregants on the ways religion and health can intersect. Churches, synagogues and religious community centers are hosting myriad events, programs and competitions to create communities that foster a focus on quality living, while keeping members motivated and accountable.

“Much of the church’s impetus is on the health of the soul and regrettably to the neglect of the body,” said the Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple Church in West Baltimore, who is hosting the church’s second 90-day fitness challenge this year.

Bryant said he began ensuring that health and fitness were part of his ministry after he read startling statistics about the correlations between obesity and religion.

A 2011 study done by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine followed 2,433 participants, ages 20 to 32 in 1987, for 18 years, later finding that “high frequency of religion participation” was associated with higher levels of obesity between young adulthood and middle age.

Seeing obesity and diabetes within his congregation, Bryant decided to tackle the issue headfirst by launching a fitness challenge in March, calling on his congregation to compete against Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore for an East-West fitness showdown.

The competition, which runs through the end of this month, lightheartedly pits church members against church members, pastors against pastors, choirs against choirs, in a race to engage in the most fitness activities and shed the most pounds. The Empowerment Temple hosts one free weekly fitness class led by local fitness trainer Monte Sanders along with a partnership the Owings Mills-based online fitness platform BurnAlong, which features dozens of classes.

Weigh-ins of each congregation, held at the beginning and end of the challenge, will help determine the winner.

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SOURCE: The Baltimore Sun
Brittany Britto