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Moving with the Wind at His Back

Churches are known for their food. Potlucks and Wednesday suppers tempt parishioners – fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, chicken and dumplings, biscuits and gravy, country ham, collards done southern style, sweet tea and every delectable baked good you can imagine.

So where does that leave a minister who believes that living a healthy lifestyle is good stewardship of God’s gift of life? It leaves a man with a whole new meaning of the term “mission work”.

Trip Lowery is the pastor of the Mighty Wind United Methodist Church in Dare County, North Carolina. Many people know Dare County as the Outer Banks, an outdoor playground for vacationing families. To Trip, it is home to a population of sedentary and overweight people with the same health issues and concerns as the rest of the state and nation.

Dare County is one of the five North Carolina counties that participated in the Childhood Obesity Prevention Demonstration Project (COPDP). Pastor Lowery was already working with his congregation to get his parishioners moving, so when he was approached by the COPDP committee to volunteer, he didn’t hesitate. The project, which was developed to help improve nutrition and increase physical activity in schools, faith communities, healthcare and community organizations, seemed to be an answer to his prayers.

Based on the information he received from COPDP Project Coordinator Stephanie Bowers, Pastor Lowery developed an action plan to raise awareness, change church policies and start programs to improve the health of his congregants.

His first step was to educate the congregation about the health benefits of physical activity and good nutrition. One approach he took was to run slide shows before and after worship and church meetings. The slides included statistics, quotes and graphs related to the obesity epidemic. The information helped create a sense of urgency about the epidemic and helped the congregation see how these issues impacted their lives.

With his congregation on board, Pastor Lowery began to make more systematic changes. The first stop was that infamous church potluck. Traditionally speaking, nutritious foods were rarely included on the expansive buffet. With the implementation of a few key policies, water is now always available at church gatherings; raw and steamed vegetables and vegetarian options are included at the table; and fried foods are scarce.

Pastor Lowery didn’t stop at food. His personal love, physical activity, was next. To increase the levels and variety of activities available, he tried to meet the needs and interests of all members of his congregation. He started a softball team. He started a marathon training program. He even implemented a Nintendo Wii sports league in the church basement. Now, not only are the parishioners reaping the physical benefits of a more active lifestyle, they are building cross-generational bonds that didn’t exist before.

Pastor Lowery has his sights set on taking his active lifestyles message into the community. He is planning future events that will help his congregation give back, such as walk-a-thons and bike-a-thons to raise money for charity. He wants to offer a holistic health class through the church.

Being a part of the COPDP committee has been energizing and motivating for Pastor Lowery.

“Having participated in this project has made me aware of what others in our community are doing as well. Walking trails, activity days at school, lobbying for state dollars for bike paths and healthy foods for kids on the weekends. I am just so excited about the partnership we have here. They are so creative about the projects they are doing,” said Lowery. “I hope groups across North Carolina are doing similar things. This is really changing lives!”

With a mighty wind at his back, Pastor Lowery continues to prove anything is possible with a little information and a mission.

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