Start Moving members: Does your church now have a health ministry or healthy activities? If so, please post a description in the comments/replies below, and help spread the word! Now, read on
One church that does have a health ministry is the Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, New York City. Grace is a vibrant and diverse church located in the heart of one of the world's greatest metropolitan areas. Reverend Richardson has led Grace Baptist since 1975. He has been a leader and catalyst for civil rights over many decades.
Like many campaigners, he sees initiatives to improve health as part of a broader civil rights movement. We were honored to have Reverend Richardson give a keynote speech at the recent Movement is Life Conference and it was inspirational.
Reverend Richardson told the audience that "Spirituality is what made African Americans survive. It's a kind of spirituality that transcends, it is a survival spirituality."
He believes it was not a coincidence that civil rights was birthed out of the church community, where spirituality is deeply connected to defiance. "We see a defiant theology. Hope is not abandoned, it defies the social context. That is why faith is the highest form of intelligence."
What about health? Reverend Richardson believes that we need to mobilize churches to take on the issue of health disparities.
This includes helping patients to help their doctors - because patients need to take on their health concerns as willing and active partners with their doctors.
"I don't just want people to get wings, I want them to get knees! The church is at its best when it is improving quality of life."
But change can be uncomfortable, particularly lifestyle change.
"You have to change, you can't live in the past," says Reverend Richardson as he discusses the new role of the church.
"Now we have a health ministry, and we have become involved with addressing the health of people who have experienced things like strokes. It's very important for the church to see itself in that light."
And that change includes diet. "We used to eat a lot of what I call food from the past. We used to have a lot of fried chicken, and I would consider myself something of a connoisseur of sorts! But now the health ministry has come along and now we don't fry anymore. And we don't have pork in the greens anymore."
How does he feel about that change in diet? "Well it's something of a dull situation right now! But you have to change. When you get new information you have to adapt to it." Reverend Richardson brought a lot of laughter to the conference, but his message is very serious.
"I challenge us to use the churches. This is a gateway where the good news and information from Movement is Life has to be deposited. People of all faiths have to understand the obligation the church has. Sometimes we need to tell our churches how they should be healing. I want to challenge everyone here no matter what your faith is, that we cannot just take in what we have heard (about health) and keep it to ourselves. We must find ways to get this information to the masses."
The Start Moving community also wants to connect to faith-based groups to spread the word and enlarge the community, including Grace Baptist Church in New York. We look forward to being part of meeting the challenge and bringing about healthy and positive change.