Conference Provides Health Ministries Training
Reaching community with health message pays off, leaders say
BY ANSEL OLIVER, assistant director for news, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
ommunity and personal health enthusiasts met recently for the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s health training conference, the denomination’s largest lay health training event. The February conference drew nearly 500 participants to Orlando, Florida.
The annual summit offered tools for local and regional church leadership to deliver community health programs, which are key since the denomination’s 2009 commitment to implement international health goals in local communities, church leaders said.
Workshops were designed to train local church leaders to hold seminars on topics from grief recovery and smoking cessation to nutrition and family health classes. “We want every church to become a community health training center,” said DeWitt Williams, health ministries director for the Adventist Church in North America.
His goal echoes that of world church health leaders who met last July with officials of the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency, to seek a partnership in implementing the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals in communities. The Adventist Church has nearly 17 million members and approximately 130,000 congregations worldwide.
HEALTH SUMMIT: Peter Landless, an associate director of health ministries for the Adventist world church, was one of the leaders of the Foundations of Health workshop, one of dozens at the church's health summit held in February in Orlando, Florida. Nearly 500 participants received training at the weeklong conference. [Photo: Wes Renk]
Since its founding in 1863 the Seventh-day Adventist Church has advocated education on healthful living and now operates the largest Protestant hospital network worldwide. Throughout the years Adventists have been shown to live longer and healthier lives compared to others within surrounding populations. The ongoing Adventist Health Study 2 is being conducted at the church’s Loma Linda University in partnership with the United States’ National Institutes of Health.
For church members who aren’t health professionals, the Orlando summit was “ideal” training for learning the latest evidence-based practices, said Dr. Peter Landless, a physician and associate director of health ministries for the world church.
“Obviously we’re not training them to do surgery or run an [emergency department], but to understand how to be extensions of Christ’s grace and love in a world that is hurting, physically and emotionally,” Landless said.
Landless cotaught a weeklong health foundations seminar, which he describes as a crash course for instructors to learn the physiology of disease. Health is addressed in terms of lifestyle—including rest, exercise, social connectedness, and integrity, he said.
“We feel it’s important to train our church members—not only our health professionals who are already trained, but also our members—to understand these processes,” Landless said. “That helps them then to discern and choose wisely from the myriad of treatments that are peddled out there.”
Church leaders around the world acknowledged the gap between the denomination’s goal of every church functioning as a health education center and current reality. While there are no world church statistics for local congregation community health programs, a seminar attendee offered one example. Dr. Ephraim Palmero, health ministries director for the Adventist Church in the state of Alaska, said only 11 of the 31 churches in the state offer a health program or have designated a health ministries director for their congregation.
“We need to convince local church leadership that it’s worth investing and trying to improve the health ministry of the church for community outreach,” Palmero said. “It will take a lot of leadership mentoring one by one to get everyone on board.”
Local church administrations or congregations sponsored some attendees, while others came on their own expense. James Convensky, health ministries leader at the Rockville-Tolland Adventist Church in Connecticut, said he paid his own way to attend the summit.
“I just save and we invest in our own health ministry [at our church],” Convensky said.
Convensky and his wife have lead health seminars at their church, such as mental health programs and cooking schools. The denomination’s commitment to healthful living is meaningful, he said, because 30 years ago he joined the church because of its health message. “I look forward to this every year,” Convensky said.
While most of the summit’s participants were from the United States, the event was cosponsored by the Adventist Church’s North American and Inter-American regions and included attendees from five continents. For more information, visit www.nadhealthsummit.com.