Faith and Health Leadership: Best Practices
First Pentecost Assemblies International, Harvey
Since 2012, Bishop Ernest Owens, Pastor of First Pentecostal Assemblies International Church in Harvey, has been working on his personal health. An incidence of high blood pressure at the doctor in 2011 spurred a life change.
While his doctor had prescribed pills of the lowest dose, Owens was reluctant to become dependent on medication. He decided not to take the pills and focus instead on diet and exercise. “I worked hard, I really did. I cut my eating habit down, was more conscious of what I was eating, and I was exercising every day – to the point that I began to walk at least 5 miles every day at Veteran Park in South Holland,” which would take him approximately and hour and a half. After several months of this, he began to lose weight. And his congregation began to notice.
The 150-person congregation at First Pentecostal has the typical assortment of health challenges you find in any congregation. Little by little the Bishop began to share with his congregation the importance of taking care of themselves. “I gave testimonies to the congregation, and the testimony was about healing – how God has created the body to self-heal itself, and if we treat it right, if we do certain things to take care of the body, the body will take care of itself. My testimony was that when I went to the doctors 3 months later, he told me I no longer needed the pills because my conditions had changed.”
In his health journey, Owens biggest struggle – as it is with many – was maintaining the habit. “The biggest challenge was consistency, the ability to continue when not wanting to, on a personal level. But I’m a firm believer in this: The cause is greater than the attack. When you realize you have a cause, the attack does not have the same effect upon you to hinder you to stop. My cause was my health. Because of the cause, when there were challenges to stop, that gave me the motivation to continue. “
Eventually he surpassed his goal. “Now here’s the part that blessed me – after I had done this for a length of time, it was harder for me not to walk than to walk. I had got into a routine, and once I crossed over I had to slow myself down. Every moment I had, every space I had in time, I would want to walk…. I’d even walk sometimes on Sundays. I became addicted to walking!”
Owens’ sees that it became an element of pastoral self-care. “Maybe it had became a custom or tradition, but in actuality it was a time of peace and serenity. It became an opportunity for me to spend time with God and with oneness within myself, a time of reflection.”
Pastoral Examples Leads to Congregational Change
Over time, Owens’ congregation wanted to follow his lead. “As I began to share with them the blessing of no longer having to take pills based on proper eating and exercising, many in my congregation began to desire to change.”
Since everyone in the congregation seemed to be curious and desiring to lose weight, Owens’ decided to take advantage of that. “I began to share with the community the things I was doing – specifically the walking – and invited them to a ‘Walk with the Bishop’ Day.” Owens suggested the congregation to join him at Veterans Park for a 5-mile walk.
The first year, about one-third of the congregation turned out on a July morning to join Bishop Owens for his daily walk. “We had children, and young people, and elderly people that came out. You walked your pace, but it was a chance to get them together and get them to become more health conscious.” It was such a success that the congregation has repeated it every year. Owens’ is proud of his progress in getting the congregation more health-conscious. The congregation enjoys the walk, and it has inspired others to continue making life changes for health. Some members of First Pentecostal started exercising more, while others changed their diet and eating habit. “Even to this day there are those who are yet still doing the walking, and have held onto their diet habits,” says Owens. He is a perfect example of the power of thoughtful faith leadership!