Summit on the Black Church focuses on black health issues in S.C., around the world

By Jessica Brodie

COLUMBIA—United Methodists got a chance to explore global health issues and how they relate to the black church in October as hundreds of clergy and laity gathered for the biennial Summit on the Black Church, “Global is Personal: A Passport to World Health.”

From Oct. 13-15, attendees heard from keynote speaker Bishop Linda Lee, bishop-in-residence at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, as well as South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston and a host of authors, dieticians, sociologists, nutrition experts and church leaders: Dr. Olusimbo Ige, the Rev. Jeannette Jordan, Dr. Angela Cowser, Dr. Paula Dobbs-Wiggins, Dr. Joseph W. Daniels Jr., Dr. Velma Love, Dr. Caroline Njuki and Sean Vander Veer.

The Rev. Jeffrey Salley, co-chair of the summit design team, said he hoped wisdom gleaned from the event would transform churches as attendees look inwardly at personal struggles with health and wholeness.

“The statistics on health and well-being in the African-American community are alarming,” said the Rev. Millie Nelson Smith, congregational specialist focusing on African-American ministries for the conference. “It is imperative that we become assertive in combating the underlying causes of diseases and chronic conditions that are highly preventable. Many of our parishioners, those in the communities around our churches and those around the world suffer daily with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, obesity, stroke, cancer, malaria, mental illness, and the list goes on and on.”

The event started Thursday afternoon with praise music from worship team Jarvis R. Wilson and Robert McMichael III, followed by an opening worship service led by Lee, who preached about the woman Jesus set free from infirmity, urging attendees to heed Scripture and be set free from their own health and other issues.

“Jesus calls for us to be set free,” Lee said, no matter what pressing issue of the day affects us, including who is elected president. “I am convinced there is nothing that will separate us from the love of God. Now is the time to be transformed, to renew our mind, to lift up and to praise God. It is our responsibility to stand, not to sit down or lay down.”

Jordan led a plenary on “Chronics in the Church,” and the event concluded for the day with An Evening of Soul Therapy, featuring comedian Mike Goodwin and 17-year-old Christian rap artist and songwriter Lil Zing.

Friday began with a Bible study from Dr. Daniel Hembree, of Bluff Road United Methodist Church, Columbia, followed by two plenaries by Cowser on “Living in South Carolina” (see below).

After a luncheon featuring Holston, Daniels led a third plenary on “The World is Our Parish” and Dobbs-Wiggins led the fourth, on “Mental Health, Spiritual Renewal, Clergy Self-Care.”

The evening concluded with a banquet featuring Lee.

Saturday had two tracks: one for youth and one for adults. Youth heard from Love, Lil Zing and Goodwin, while adults heard from Hembree, Vander Veer and Njuki.

Holston led a closing worship featuring the Florence District Praise and Worship Choir.

“The 2016 Summit on The Black Church reminded us all that God wants us to be well in the fullness and wholeness of who God created us to be,” said Summit on the Black Church attendee the Rev. Telley Gadson, pastor of St. Mark UMC, Taylors. “What good is it for me to shout on Sunday and be sick on Monday? The stewardship of my physical health is my offering to God to be transformed by the renewing of my mind, body and soul.”

Spotlight on One Plenary: ‘Living in South Carolina’

The three-day Summit on the Black Church featured wisdom from a host of speakers. Here are some nuggets from Dr. Angela Cowser, assistant professor of the sociology of religion at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Cowser led two plenaries Friday morning on “Living in South Carolina,” talking about the world as it is, should be and can be when it comes to health.

She cited seven things that kill South Carolinians: heart disease, cancer, lower respiratory diseases, accidents, stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease and diabetes. When it comes to black lives, she said the population is rife with issues that drive up these health concerns, noting that 66 percent of black South Carolinians are obese, 50 percent are sedentary, 43 percent have high cholesterol, 40 percent have high blood pressure, 25 percent smoke and 15 percent have diabetes.

With proper education and awareness, people can seize control of their health so they don’t have to be a statistic, she said.

Years ago, she shared, she was 5-foot-4-inches tall, weighed 200 pounds and was pre-diabetic. Then she underwent a journey to lose weight and be healthy.

“I learned it takes rethinking how I spend my time and money to get the weight off and keep it off,” Cowser said.

She had to choose between the pricier and more labor-intensive route of grocery shopping and cooking versus the cheap and easy route of McDonald’s, as well as between gathering the energy to exercise after a long day versus collapsing in an easy chair and relaxing.

“Over time, I had to continue to say yes to health,” Cowser said.

She urged attendees to examine what it means to have full, abundant health in all areas of their lives: emotional, physical, spiritual, financial and more. This can mean everything from getting enough sleep to keeping the Sabbath to having a strong support network of friends and family.

“Taking care of our whole selves is a path to godliness,” Cowser said. “It all comes back to loving ourselves.”

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