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Local Seattle Churches Working to Improve Congregation & Community Health

With inspiration from the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative and support from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, six church congregations in the city of Seattle, Washington have begun a journey to wholeheartedly improve their church members’ physical well-being and spiritual health.  Together, these six churches reach more than 9,000 predominantly African American Seattle community members, and they are each working under the belief that their proactive community health and wellness initiatives will result in healthier and stronger congregations and neighborhoods– in body and spirit.  As it stands, nearly 59 percent of King County adults are overweight or obese, with obesity rates reaching disproportionately high levels among the county’s African Americans.

Under the “Moving Together in Faith & Health” program all six churches involved have put wellness policies in place that aim to correct this reality.  They’ve made changes like ensuring more healthy food and beverage options are offered at church events, planting church gardens, encouraging group walking, and introducing limits on time spent in front of computers and televisions at child and teen church programs.

An important aspect of the churches’ collective strategy is their focus on fostering wider neighborhood ties.  For example, they have dedicated themselves to hosting the Seattle Wholesale Market, not only to provide nutritious foods to their congregations, but also to directly connect community restaurants, stores, hospitals, and schools with local farmers for an even broader impact on the health of their parishioners.

Mount Zion Baptist Church leaders at Moving Together in Faith & Health celebration in Seattle

Mount Zion Baptist Church leaders at Moving Together in Faith & Health celebration in Seattle:  from left, Rev. Aaron Williams, Senior Pastor; Stephen Riggins, former co-chair of Health and Counseling Ministry and Phase I Health Lead; Emma Cotton, Co-Lead; Dora Smith, Deacon and Phase II Health Lead; and Dr. Georgia S. McDade, Superintendent of Christian Education and Children and Youth Lead.

 “I encourage all the churches in the community to take up this fight with us,” said Rev. Aaron Williams, senior pastor of Mount Zion Baptist in Seattle. “If we are going to tackle this giant of chronic diseases and obesity, it’s going to take the whole village to do it.”  This is a shining example of the many local, faith based health initiatives growing across the country, prioritizing healthy living for Americans in their places of worship and community engagement.