|Church encourages members to work up a sweat|
|Church member Sondra Bell leads an aerobics class at Anderson United Methodist Church. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.
By John Gordon*
Jan. 4, 2007 | JACKSON, Miss. (UMNS)
Encouraged by a pastor who faced a health crisis, members of Anderson United Methodist Church are sweating their way to fitness.
The Rev. Joe May encouraged church members to join him in losing
weight, working out and eating healthier foods. May's day of reckoning
came after a doctor told him he would need daily injections to control
"He said, 'And if you don't do it, you're going to go blind, have to
go on dialysis, and you're going to die,'" May recalled. "He caught my
attention quite well."
May started walking five miles a day and went on a diet, losing 46
pounds between June and October alone. He had never told church members
he was diabeti il he challenged them, during a sermon, to get off the
"I was wearing a suit that day that I had not been able to get in for
two years," he said. "That was just as a means of illustrating
what we can do when we add faith to any effort we set out to
Some 180 church members signed a covenant to join the fitness
campaign. The church began sponsoring aerobics and karate classes, with
members weighing in at each session to track their weight loss.
A wakeup call
All age groups in the church have taken up the call. Even 11-year-old
Wilson Bell, after an aerobics class, admitted giving up some of his
The Rev. Joe May walks five miles a day and watches what he eats. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.
"Before, I would eat a bunch of junk food, eat candy, eat a lot of chocolate cake," said Bell, who has lost 12 pounds.
"I try to lay off the sweets - eat a lot of salad, drink a lot of milk and water," he said.
Church member Ruth Davis said she has lost 10 pounds by walking every day and attending the aerobics class three times a week.
"I'm 61 years old," she said, "and I need to keep this body in (as) good shape as I can. And I'm trying to live longer."
Church member Lapraevian Jackson said the death of his mother from a heart attack two years ago served as a wakeup call.
"She wasn't really overweight," Jackson said. "But that encouraged me to eat better and have a better, healthy lifestyle."
Sondra Bell, who teaches one of the aerobics classes, said working
out can also save the cost of a new wardrobe. She estimated that she had
lost about eight inches, "which I'm probably more proud of than the
weight," she said. "Because there are some dresses and skirts and jeans
that I haven't been able to put on for years, and I'm back in
them. So it's a pretty good feeling."
May said he is pleased with the congregation's response. "The cost of
health care is escalating at an all-time high. Many of our persons in
this congregation, other congregations, are on fixed income," he said.
Anderson United Methodist Church offers aerobics classes to help its members shape up. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.
Clergy are not exempt from health concerns. May said Mississippi
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, an avid jogger, is encouraging pastors in the
state to shape up. May's personal goal is to lose more weight and
control his blood sugar to avoid the daily injections for diabetes.
The fitness program has even led to changes in some longstanding
traditions at the church. Anderson Church has scaled back on a United
Methodist staple: the pot-luck dinner.
"We've learned that you can have meetings without feeding people,"
May said. "If a person is committed to the task, they will come without a
Church member Kathy Wade said she's made new friends in the aerobics
class, and she's lost 15 pounds by exercising and changing her eating
"I feel healthy. I have a lot of energy now," she said. "(I) feel good leaving home every day now."
*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or email@example.com.
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