West Georgia churches join forces to help improve community’s health

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The air was filled with excitement as the crowd in the bleachers cheered on their favorite teams.

As basketball players ran up and down the court, it was clear that this game was going to be a nail biter.

After gaining possession of the ball, one player made his way down the floor, dribbling past the competition then leaping into the air with his eyes on the prize. There was a very brief silence followed by a chorus of cheers after he successfully dunked the ball into the goal.

The stakes are high in any competition, but this was no ordinary basketball game. Fourteen churches from across west Georgia gathered in Carrollton for faith, fitness, fellowship and fun during an interfaith basketball tournament earlier this spring. The Hoops for Health Basketball Challenge was hosted by Tabernacle Baptist Church in partnership with Tanner Health System’s Faith in Health committee, part of the Get Healthy, Live Well Coalition, a multi-sector community coalition working to increase access to healthy food, increase physical activity, reduce chronic disease risks and eliminate tobacco use in Carroll, Haralson and Heard counties.

“[The Hoops for Health Basketball Challenge] was a great opportunity to not only come together to promote physical activity, but bring our churches together in a spirt of peace and unity,” said Tabernacle Baptist Church Pastor Stephen Allen.

Donations from the event supported the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. At the end of the tournament, A Place of Refuge was the last team standing to claim the prestigious “Hallelujah Cup.” Only time will tell if they will be successful defending their title next year.

In the meantime, the Faith in Health committee is keeping their eye on an even higher prize – the community’s health. And for good reason: A 2006 study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, found that there were more obese people in states with larger populations of people claiming religious affiliations.

The study also found that Baptists and fundamentalist Protestants had the highest rates of obesity respectively. This may be due in part to the unhealthy foods consumed during celebrations and fellowship.

“From Sunday School donuts to church potluck dinners, food — especially high-fat foods — are key to the social organization of many U.S. religions,” the study reads.

But churches can be valuable resources for educating people on how to thrive mentally, physically and spiritually. Get Healthy, Live Well has educated and shared important resources on a wide-range of topics that impact the church community, including diabetes prevention, healthy eating and risks from tobacco use. As a result of Get Healthy, Live Well’s Revive and Thrive workshop held at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton last year, all of the churches are adapting their own smoke-free or tobacco-free policies.

From hosting health education events and diabetes prevention classes to participating in healthy lifestyle challenges, churches have been enthusiastic partners. This is evidenced by what churches in the Faith in Health committee have accomplished over the past year.

Piney Grove Baptist Church has begun implementing "movement minutes" into their weekly Sunday church service, guiding congregants through stretching and light cardiovascular activities. Antioch Missionary Baptist Church hosted their first "Activity Day," bringing together church members and the broader community for the sole purpose of getting people moving. And Overcomers Christian Center is incorporating a monthly health theme into their church calendar, with each month focusing on a different topic of interest and need for their congregation.

Additionally, some churches have banned fried foods, removed vending machines and stopped selling baked goods to raise money. To help replace unhealthy habits, churches have added water or unsweetened tea and fresh fruit to their meals. They have also planted community gardens.

“The Faith in Health committee has really been doing some exciting things,” said Denise Taylor, senior vice president and chief community health, strategy and brand officer for Tanner. “We’ve been working with the faith-based community since 2013, teaching them how to improve the health of their congregations and they have taken it to a new level.”

The Faith in Health committee is chaired by Overcomers Christian Center Pastor Richard Dobbs and Southern Hills Christian Church Pastor Shannon Lovelady. The committee’s goal is to not only work on mental, physical and spiritual health, but to work on building community.

“One of my pet peeves as a pastor is I feel like our churches operate in little silos,” said Lovelady. “This is just a really natural way for us to come together and actually be partners. We can be so much more effective working together than trying to do it on our own.”

Participating churches include A Place of Refuge, Agape of God Ministry, Inc., Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Church Without Walls, Covenant Word Ministry, First Baptist Church of Bowdon, First Baptist Church of Carrollton, First Baptist Church of Villa Rica, Friendship Baptist Church, Overcomers Christian Center, Piney Grove Missionary Baptist Church, Southern Hills Christian Church, Tabernacle Baptist Church and Word of Truth.

The Hoops for Health Basketball Challenge marked the second time these churches have worked together to help improve the community’s health. In January, Southern Hills Christian Church hosted the Resolution Run 5K in partnership with the Faith in Health committee. A Bible quiz bowl and healthy tailgate competition are planned later this year.

In addition to the quarterly events, the churches are participating in healthy lifestyle challenges. Covenant Word Ministry was recently declared the champion of Get Healthy, Live Well’s Hydrate, Don’t Wait Challenge.

For more information about Get Healthy, Live Well and its faith-based initiatives, visit GetHealthyLiveWell.org.