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General Conference to include emphasis on health

Nurse Therese Pineda and the Rev. Daniel R. Morley of First United Methodist Church in Gilbert, Ariz., practice Sign Chi Do, a stress management exercise she will teach during the 2008 General
Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
A UMNS photo by Bob Ralston.


A UMNS Report
By Deborah White*

April 15, 2008

A new focus on health at the 2008 General Conference will include daily fitness walks and a Health and Wholeness booth offering blood pressure checks, relaxation exercises, massage chairs and interactive health information.

General Conference, the top legislative assembly of The United Methodist Church, meets April 23-May 2 at the Forth Worth (Texas) Convention Center. Almost 1,000 delegates will act on more than 1,500 pieces of proposed legislation during 10 consecutive days of meetings.

Six United Methodist agencies sponsoring the Health and Wholeness booth envision the 30-by-80-foot space as an oasis from the stresses of the conference—a place to relax while learning more about personal health, congregational health ministries, healthcare advocacy and global health.

Free water bottles, pedometers and apples will be available at the booth to encourage healthy behavior during the assembly, which can be mentally and physically demanding because of the heavy workload, long hours, tight schedules and a lack of sleep.

"We believe United Methodists are called to work toward a global society of persons who are spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally healthy," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications. He and other members of the Interagency Health and Wholeness Task Force planned the booth and related activities in cooperation with the Central Texas Annual (regional) Conference host committee.

As a break from long hours of sitting, group fitness walks will start near the convention center each day at 12:45 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. led by host committee members. Participants will receive T-shirts with "I Walked with the World" printed in nine languages.

Healthier lives

Visitors to the booth will be invited to hear personal health stories from around the world, advocate for health issues via computers, learn about health ministries and take assessments of their physical, spiritual and financial health.

The Rev. Larry Hollon

"People will have a chance to look at ways to be personally healthy and how to participate in the development of public policy that would be beneficial to people around the world for healthier lives," Hollon said.

To help delegates and visitors relax, the booth features a serene design that incorporates photos of health ministries, Scripture verses and quotes from Methodism founder John Wesley, as well as eight massage chairs and an area for stress-management exercises.

Next to the booth, a prayer room sponsored by the host committee will include quiet spaces for personal reflection and a labyrinth for meditative walks.

Health fairs offering free screenings and health tips are planned for April 25, April 29 and April 30 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sponsors are Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital and Methodist Health System based in Dallas.

About 20 local parish nurses will volunteer on a rotating basis to provide blood pressure checks every day from 7:45-9:15 a.m., noon-1:15 p.m. and 4:30-5:30 p.m. They also will provide information about parish nursing and health ministries.

During scheduled times for blood pressure checks from April 28 to May 1, visitors to the booth can learn Sign Chi Do, a prayerful exercise that incorporates sign language gestures, deep breathing, slow movements and music.

"I’m a much healthier person because of Sign Chi Do," said Therese Pineda, R.N., a parish nurse at First United Methodist Church in Gilbert, Ariz., who will teach the stress-management exercise. Dr. Anne Borik of Phoenix, developer of Sign Chi Do, taught it to participants of the United Methodist Pre-General Conference News Briefing in January.

"It’s a way to instantly center ourselves, be prayerful, feel free of all the things that happen at General Conference and be refreshed," said Patricia Magyar, executive secretary of Health and Welfare at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, who will coordinate the booth during the conference. "It’s easy and it’s fun," she added.

Health as wholeness

The health focus is the result of two years of planning by the interagency task force, which includes United Methodist Communications and the boards of Global Ministries, Discipleship, Pension and Health Benefits, Church and Society and Higher Education and Ministry.

Participants in group fitness walks offered daily at General Conference
will receive a T-shirt labeled "I Walked with the World," available in nine languages.  A UMNS graphic courtesy
of the United Methodist Interagency
Health and Wholeness Task Force.

The task force formed in 2005 when Hollon invited other agency leaders to discuss how their intense interests in health and wholeness could impact and strengthen each other. "It evolved into a conversation about General Conference and this booth," said Barbara Boigegrain, chief executive of the Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

"We want to start to make people aware of the importance of health and defining it as health as wholeness––mind, body, spiritual, financial––the whole picture," Boigegrain said. The task force also wants to spark interest in health, educate participants about a wide range of health issues and equip them with tools to take action after the conference.

"We hope this gathering can be a stepping-off point to encourage attendees to actively identify and improve their own healthful habits and extend health awareness to their families, congregations and, consequently, the world we serve," she said.

*White is associate editor of Interpreter magazine and a member of the leadership team for an annual United Methodist health ministries conference.

News media contact: Deborah White, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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