A summer World Council of Churches (WCC) gathering brought the Reverend Everdith Landrau together with ecumenical leaders from other Christian denominations to discuss a heart health awareness campaign that is gaining support in the ecumenical community. Everdith is manager of Ecumenical Relations & Networking with the Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The group was briefed on Village Heart B.E.A.T.—Building Education and Accountability Together (VHB). The program is designed to promote better heart health and enhance community resources in a coordinated health-care service model, addressing obesity and heart disease awareness among African American and Hispanic populations.
“VHB gave me the tools to create a wellness ministry at New Friendship Presbyterian Church in Huntersville, North Carolina, where I served on my first call,” said Landrau. “It changed lives and gave the congregation an incentive to become healthier.”
Cheryl Emanuel, senior health manager with the Office of Community Engagement for the Mecklenburg County Health Department, and member of Grier Heights Presbyterian Church, is the visionary behind the program.
“Most importantly, VHB is about one big family taking care of one another. Our program is a faith-based collaborative working to address chronic disease in our county’s public health priority areas,” she said. “One of the things that we know is that many of our people are dying because they do not have access to care or information.”
In line with its Ecumenical Global Health Strategy, the WCC is mobilizing and supporting churches to take wholistic action on health, especially health promotion and prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The recent workshop drew on participants’ experiences to create a toolkit for churches to use in developing their health-promotion programming. Elements will include program activities, monitoring and evaluation tools, coordination mechanisms, and technological support.
“We took part in a workshop that offered practical sessions for participants to present and discuss their experiences and activities,” said Landrau. “Churches engage, for example, in nutrition education; promoting physical exercise; screening for diabetes, hypertension, and obesity; as well as information on growing fruits and vegetables.”
Other ecumenical faith leaders weighed in on the important role churches play in making congregations and their communities healthier.
“Even national efforts rely on the churches’ grassroots networks,” said Eva Mafi, program manager for the Health Promotion Unit in the Ministry of Health in Tonga. “We feel fortunate to have an effective entry point into the community through the partnership with churches.”
The WCC’s Health and Healing program recently won plaudits from the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) director-general.
“As places of community and solidarity, churches and other faith-based institutions can play a vital role in promoting health,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Faith leaders carry a voice of authority that sometimes speaks louder than that of governments and other leaders. Our shared vision should be for ‘Health Promoting Churches’ all over the world that help to promote the physical and mental well-being of their people, as well as their spiritual well-being.”
Participants included church leaders, health workers, and other private sector professionals from Jamaica, Tonga, the United States, Canada, and Switzerland. The group applauded the WCC for organizing the recent workshop saying it allowed them to learn from each other and inspired them to be part of a vision that will touch lives.
“I was glad to learn how much churches are doing and collaborating on health beyond denominational lines,” said Dr. Suzanne Jackson of the University of Toronto and director of WHO’s Collaborating Centre for Health Promotion.
Dr. Mwai Makoka, WCC program executive for Health and Healing, said “It is inspiring how churches are taking concrete actions to combat disease, starting where they are and with what they have.”
Click here for more information about the gathering and VHB’s impact on those attending.