Published August 23, 2012
WASHINGTON — Plans are coming together for First Baptist Church’s annual homecoming celebration, held Oct. 20-21. There will be singing and preaching, fellowshipping and eating, all kicked off with a 5K run on Saturday.
Anything there seem out of place?
Churches are known for a lot of things, but good health habits generally don’t make the list. At the beginning of the year Pastor Kevin Madden and his wife, Alicia, decided perhaps it was time for that to change.
The Maddens didn’t know it, but just 44 miles up highway 78 the University of Georgia Obesity Initiative was being launched. With a concern for health in a land flowing with sweet tea and gravy, the effort seeks to “help the state address its growing epidemic of childhood and adult obesity, as well as the increasing incidence of overweight infants” according to its website at obesity.ovpr.uga.edu.
Around two dozen members of First Baptist remain from the 50 or so that showed for an initial meeting in January. Collectively, they shed 1,000 pounds by June. The group’s goal is to match the year’s number in losing 2,012 pounds by the end of December.
“God had been speaking to me about getting healthier,” said Alicia, 45. “I’d been evaluating areas of my life [at the end of 2011] where I’d had victory with God’s help, and this was one where I’d had continued problems. I thought I could have success if I could engage others in the process.
“If I believe I can do all things through Christ, then God can give me victory in this as well.”
Jason Chapman, 26, is a native of Washington who began attending First Baptist when he was 12. He attained his goal of losing 40 pounds in June, getting down to 217.
For years Chapman had camped out in the 230s, but in college steadily gained weight until the day he reached 258 pounds.
“It was a slap in the face,” he said. “I hadn’t even noticed how big I’d gotten.”
The formula for weight loss wasn’t difficult, he added – exercise and watch your diet. For this Southerner, that meant eliminating fried foods, soft drinks, and sweet tea.
“I had to put God first as far as what I ate,” stated Chapman, who is the point man for the 5K. “Would God want me to eat this? Is it good for my temple (body)? Is it good of me?”
Taking note of a devotion led by a fellow weight loss team member, he added, “You have to invite God to come eat with you.”
Kay Helms acknowledges that Cheetos was her “drug of choice.” A couple of years ago her husband, Pug, had survived a heart attack and subsequently lost weight through the doctor-prescribed diet that followed. However, the couple had – to borrow a church term – backslidden.
“I’d struggled with weight all my life and was on the verge of giving up,” she said, adding that she wanted to support the new weight loss group at church but also get encouragement for her own health journey.
Since joining the group Kay, 67, has lost 31 pounds. Pug’s goal was to reach his weight from when he captained the Washington-Wilkes High School football team in 1958. On July 22 he surpassed that mark with a weigh-in of 192 pounds.
“He hasn’t been that slim since our second year of marriage when he served in Vietnam,” giggled Kay.
Recently Kay was part of a group giving cardboard testimonies – simple, one-sentence statements written on the front and back of large pieces of cardboard – at First Washington. One side read “I had completely given up on my physical health.”
On the other side: “But Christ said, ‘Behold I make all things new.’”
“From a pastor’s perspective, it’s been amazing to see [lives changed],” said Kevin Madden. “Physical health is a problem in our area of epic proportions, no pun intended.”
Madden, 44, grew up at First Baptist and knows the surrounding culinary culture. Perhaps an extended stay somewhere else – such as 15 years in Canada as a church planting missionary for the North American Mission Board – was needed to fully realize other areas see food differently.
“Diabetes is an epidemic around here and seen as acceptable,” he noted. “In the group, people have been encouraged to see that there’s a powerful affect on seeing our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit.”
Avoiding unhealthy foods would be a lot easier if Southerners weren’t so blessed in creating slap-yo-mama-good biscuits, casseroles, barbecue, and desserts, to start an endless list. The entire country recently got a lesson in what happens when you threaten fried Chikn.
Though First Baptist still has dietary elements that mark a Southern church, options have been presented such as healthier choices and smaller portions. Alicia sends out a weekly email with tips for weight control. In addition to a field trip to a local gym, a nutritionist addressed the group and brought examples of healthy snacks. Most were good, though the pork rinds industry doesn’t have anything to fear from Kale chips.
As with any group where members face the same challenge, those active in First Washington’s weight loss challenge have, in the metaphysical sense, grown together.
“This group is very tight, spiritually connected, and relationally strong. They support each other,” said the church’s pastor. “They thrive on seeing each other reach their goals and persevere.”
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