This week we asked our bloggers what they wish churches talked about more.
My husband left this morning for his Credo conference. While I mourn the fact that I never “won the lottery” to get my own invitation, I am pondering the importance of this ministry to our pastors. The Board of Pensions has found these gatherings so worthwhile that it covers nearly all the costs to attend a weeklong conference to discuss spiritual, vocational, financial and bodily well-being. It’s that last one I’m most interested in. The church is accustomed to talking about spirituality, vocational calling and even finances. But we rarely talk about the health of our bodies.
Presbytery meetings, not to mention churches, are rarely the picture of health. Our body shapes and eating habits mirror those of the culture around us, which is to say: We aren’t very healthy. Church is a place where we encourage folks to eat cookies at 10 o’clock in the morning and bribe youth to come to Sunday school by supplying doughnuts. I have a friend who always brings a salad to her church’s potluck because otherwise, there won’t be a green thing on the table. I am the first to say I love sugary treats and I eat them a lot. But I also know that I and other people are struggling to make healthy decisions. It’s easier to do that when there is a positive conversation about healthy living rather than just whispered comments about guilty pleasures or the numbers on the scale. Without a parish nurse or a healthcare professional leading the way, it’s rare to hear a sermon or Bible lesson urging us to take stock of our physical well-being. I know of churches that offer Christian yoga, the Walk to Jerusalem exercise program and healthy cooking classes. These are powerful starting points. But they tend to be individual programs, rather than initiatives that spread to the whole mission of the church.
What I see as a solution to this problem is also a barrier to opening the conversation: stewardship. The concept of stewardship awakens us to our call to care for all of our God-given gifts. Knowing that the human body is the ultimate gift, we are already equipped to address questions of how we eat, what groceries we buy, how we budget and prioritize time for exercise. And yet we don’t start the conversation. I feel certain this is because the church has, sadly, allowed the word “stewardship” to stand for “money” alone. Rather than a robust conversation about stewardship of time and resources, stewardship just means it’s time to fill out the pledge card. Therefore, we already get antsy and nervous when we hear the word mentioned. Many perceive that a discussion of financial stewardship pries into their personal affairs and digs into business too intimate for the church setting. A discussion of stewardship that relates to our bodies raises fears about this same sense of intrusion.
In order to talk about better stewardship of our bodies, we could change the conversation on stewardship as a whole. By treating the topic holistically, God’s call to be stewards of the gifts of time, food, technology, sleep, money and relationships might hit us in a new way. Instead of feeling like an invasion, these conversations might become welcome guidance that frees us from the things that bind. In my congregation, this conversation might lead us to host lessons on home canning for the community, which involves stewardship of the land, our produce and our pocketbooks. For others, it might jumpstart efforts to focus on Sabbath-keeping or healthy interaction with technology. All of these ideas touch on multiple kinds of stewardship at the same time, which is a lot more like the messy world we live in anyway. In this way, caring for our health could become part of a new pattern of living in which we practice disciplined decision-making amid gratitude for the gifts God has entrusted to us.
EMMA NICKEL serves as stated supply pastor of Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in Greensburg, Kentucky. She is passionate about small church ministry, cooking and playing with her cat, Scout.