One of the things that I am so proud of Rowan County for is the commitment towards health from every sector. This includes traditional partners like the leaders from healthcare agencies, namely Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, Rowan County Health Department, Community Care Clinic of Rowan County, and Cabarrus-Rowan Community Health Centers. Also included in this list are medical service providers, human service agencies, and community service organizations. Newer partners to the conversation around health include representatives and leaders from local government, businesses, educational institutions, and the faith community. I want to shine a light on some of the great ideas that have been infused into faith institutions throughout Rowan County that focus on meeting people where they are and bringing health into the conversation.
Gardens and Feeding the Community
Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church in rural Rowan County is nestled between High Rock Lake and Rockwell and sits on around 13 acres of land. The church began a garden ministry in 2015 as there are many people in the congregation who have a good knowledge of farming and gardening. Pastor Sean Barrett said, “We also understand that part of God’s mission is that the hungry be fed, so it seemed to be a natural fit.” Faith-based garden spaces are excellent for connecting with community members and congregants alike, and using acreage to improve the health of the community. Healthy eating can be tough for anyone, so having better access to low-cost and fresh produce is a great way to be a little bit healthier each and every day. Saint Peter’s garden has grown with abundance, producing 108 lbs. the first year, and now is up to providing 630 lbs. of produce in just 4 years! The produce is distributed by congregants to get fresh vegetables to people in need. The Community Care Clinic of Rowan, our local free clinic, gives produce away to patients as a part of the conversation of healthy eating.
Another great way that Saint Peter’s is working to feed the hungry is through their newly opened food pantry. If you didn’t know, Rowan County is huge, spanning 524 square miles across, and many folks live in the outer, more rural areas. Not everyone has the transportation to make it into our downtown area. Pastor Barrett saw this as an opportunity to collaborate with the great folks of Rowan Helping Ministries to start “Rowan Helping Ministries East”. Each Saturday from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., disciples at Saint Peter’s serve to feed their neighbors. Part of the food is fresh produce from the garden. The great thing about this partnership is that Rowan Helping Ministries East is connected with the main branch and shares the computer system to coordinate the distribution of food, and receives USDA food provided by the main branch. People at Saint Peter’s and neighboring congregations such as Luther’s Lutheran and Saint James Lutheran supplement these items with additional food and money that is collected and given. Each month, an average of 15-20 neighbors visit, many of whom have never received this needed assistance before. Rowan County neighbors and agencies helping one another… what a great sight to see!
Pastor Barrett and Debbie Hill work together to coordinate Rowan Helping Ministries East. Debbie brings fresh produce to the Community Care Clinic of Rowan County.
Hood Theological Seminary Bringing Health into the Classroom
Hood Theological Seminary (HTS) is a graduate and professional school that provides theological preparation for effective ministry in a diverse society. According to their website, their programs can “help you to pastor a local congregation, serve in a specialized ministry such as Christian Education or Counseling, explore theological questions for personal enrichment, lay a foundation for a PhD program elsewhere, or retool yourself for more senior church leadership.” Hood Theological is unique with their emphasis on health and wellness for pastors and congregants alike. They developed a walking track and infused programs like “Faithful Families” into their curriculum because the leadership recognized how important it is for pastors to model a healthy lifestyle as well as spiritual behaviors. HTS is located within Rowan County, but serves pastors throughout North Carolina, and we are proud they are leading the way. The “Faithful Families” program is designed to help individuals and families connect healthy eating and physical activity to their religious or spiritual beliefs. Each lesson offers discussion questions and suggested activities to help participants talk about their eating habits, physical activity, and faith. The program guides participants to engage in better self-care for themselves and their families.
During the class, participants learn to plan, shop for, and prepare healthy meals for their families; discover delicious, healthy, and family-friendly recipes; explore simple ways to be physically active; and have in depth discussions about the connections between food, physical activity, and faith.
Bringing Together Faith Leaders and Community Resources
Novant Health Rowan Medical Center recognizes that inside the hospital, clergy and congregations are a vital part of a remarkable healthcare experience. Spiritual care can help patients heal and provide comfort for families and friends. In addition, Novant Health, as a system, recognizes that faith communities provide guidance on physical, emotional, and spiritual health each and every day. Novant Health provides trainings for participants in health promotion, disease prevention and leadership, as well as provides participants with updated information about health services, events, and workshops in the community.
Congregation Health Ministries and Promoters Rebooted
Finally, I am excited to share that September will kick-off a new season for Novant Health Rowan’s Congregational Health Ministry’s Program. We are currently working to build the program by joining churches monthly to share health-related information and community resources with faith leaders and health champions. The main goal is to give churches the opportunity to present their congregation with health-related and educational resources. From personal experience, I loved that my family’s pastor understood how to talk to us after my father’s stroke at age 56. Moreover, he was able to share information on the F.A.S.T acronym, an easy way to remember and identify the most common symptoms of a stroke, with the congregants.
Additionally, with Novant Health Rowan, their congregational health promoter program works with leaders in the faith community to help identify specific needs of their congregation. They will use their expertise and resources to promote healthy living to their congregation. We also provide a training session that teaches participants how to start a health ministry, survey a congregation to determine health needs, and develop a health committee.
For more information on these programs, call Chaplain James Cook at 704-210-5049 or email Jenn West, Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how you can sign-up to be a part of the Congregational Health Ministry in Rowan County!
This is just a very small taste of how health and faith mix in Rowan County. What are other ways that your faith center connects with health? Have you had the Novant Health Mammography bus to your church? Does your congregation participate in health fairs or provide healthy options at a potluck? Has your faith leader started a walking group? Send me an email with your story at email@example.com.