Saving Lives Banquet Welcomes New Members, Announces Further Expansion
- January 8th, 2014
- in News
By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Assistant
On December 12 at the Bryant Conference Center, the University of Alabama and its community partners concluded a second successful year in the faith-based and wellness program known as Saving Lives with a banquet to honor participants and welcome new members.
Three new churches — Hightown Church of God, Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church and New Zion Missionary Baptist Church — attended the banquet. The three original churches in the program are Plum Grove Baptist, First African Baptist and College Hill Baptist. Each was well represented at the banquet.
By the end of the year, six churches will be involved in the program, according to program leaders.
“Many of us may not be disciplined enough on our own to take care of our personal health,” said Carol Agomo, Saving Lives coordinator and program coordinator in the Division of Community Affairs. “With the Saving Lives initiative we recognize that spiritual health and physical well-being are intimately connected and that each strengthens the other.”
Agomo said the roles of the churches and the advocates have evolved during the almost two years since the program began, creating a Saving Lives network.
“What a night this has been, what a year this has been,”said UA Vice President of Community Affairs Dr. Samory Pruitt. “As a group we’ve learned a lot together. We’ve learned from each other and we’ve done it together.”
Pruitt said the groups have benefited from educational discussions concerning diet, exercise, relaxation and simply how to talk with their doctor.
The celebration included songs from Plum Grove and College Hill choirs, as well as testimonies on the successes of the program from members of each church.
When individuals engage in improvement opportunities like those provided by Saving Lives, they can measurably improve their health, said Dr. Rebecca Kelly, director of UA’s Office of Health Promotion and Wellness, who has been one of the key instructors at Saving Lives workshops.
Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster, M.D., deputy director for UA’s Rural Health Institute for Clinical and Translation Science, said Saving Lives exemplifies UA’s efforts to help those in the African American community live more abundant lives. “This is a partnership that is intentional,” she said. “We intentionally chose faith-based communities within the larger Tuscaloosa African American community. We understand the importance of spirituality when we talk about health and really what spirituality means in our efforts to decrease high morbidity and address health disparities.”
Georgia White, an advocate from First African Baptist Church, said she was glad that her pastor, the Rev. Richard L. Morgan, accepted the challenge. “I just want to say that we have really learned a lot these last two years. It has been a rewarding experience for all of us. We’ve worked together and discussed what we want to do for the upcoming meetings. Everyone has just pulled together,” said White, a retired nurse.
In addition to discussions and workshops on healthy living, some of the churches have started exercise groups and even purchased equipment to be housed at the church for the use of its members.
“The Bible has so much to say about the body. We are the body of Christ. Our Lord gave his body. John admonishes us to keep healthy bodies even as our soul prospers,” said the Rev. Tyshawn Gardner, pastor of Plum Grove Baptist Church, referencing the very scripture used by the printed program for the evening — “Dear Friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” (3 John 1:2).
Gardner was one of the first pastors approached as plans were being made for the initiative. “When Dr. Pruitt called me, I was immediately on board. Not only because it is Biblical, but because it is the right thing to do,” Gardner said. “We have better informed elders now. They know what questions to ask during their monthly doctor visits. This program and initiative will not only increase vitality, energy, health and body, it also brings a sense of fellowship and wholesomeness to families striving to be obedient for our Lord.”
“I could not be more pleased with the work of the founding churches in the pilot program,” Pruitt said. “We now look forward to the new group of churches to begin participating in 2014.”
Master of ceremonies for the evening was Christopher H. Spencer, director of the Office of Community Development in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, an initiative of the Division of Community Affairs. Spencer is also senior pastor of St. Matthew Watson Baptist Church in Boligee.
Spencer is one of the many ministers using the program to improve their own health and educating their congregations in the Saving Lives principles. Spencer has lost 25 pounds through the program and has pledged to lose 25 more this year. Others have lost even more since the program began.
“We want members to be happy physically as well as spiritually,” Spencer said. “Jesus met physical and spiritual needs, and that’s what this program does.” During each workshop, scripture is used to illustrate healthy lifestyles. “Each lesson has a spiritual background. Everything in the program is connected to scripture,” he said.
In addition to the workshops, the program requires that participants take part in health screenings and their results are tracked, showing the members how they’ve improved or failed to improve.
According to Dr. Martha Crowther, associate professor and director of clinical psychology at the University, health screenings are the first step toward a healthy lifestyle, providing a baseline for what improvements are needed.
Although the program is expanding to several new churches, pastors of the original churches will be a resource and mentors for the new churches, Spencer said.