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Fair encourages clergy to take health seriously

Fair encourages clergy to take health seriously

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Fair encourages clergy to take health seriously

June 20, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0871}

An e-Review Feature
By Mary Lee Downey**

LAKELAND — “I came so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Those words, written in John, chapter 10, were said more than 2,000 years ago, but the United Methodist General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is taking those words to heart today when it comes to clergy health.

The majority of the 524 people who participated in the health screenings offered during the health and wellness fair at this year’s annual conference session were in “fairly good health,” according to Barbara Pearce, a longtime member of the Florida Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits, which sponsored the fair. She said no one was sent to the hospital this year, compared to three people whose tests at the health fair during the 2003 conference session indicated they had dangerously high blood pressures. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0903.

Since 2005, the board has been part of an inter-United Methodist agency health and wholeness initiative to provide encouragement, tools and resources to help clergy make healthier choices about diet, exercise and work.
The Florida Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits has been following that lead, and this year’s annual conference event May 29-31 gave it one more opportunity to encourage clergy to consider their health, so they can live life abundantly and be more effective in their ministries. The board organized a health and wellness fair the first two days of the conference session that offered health screenings and massages.

“I think it all went really well,” said Wendy McCoy, director of human resources and benefits for the Florida Conference. McCoy’s office helped organize the fair, which was available to both clergy and lay members attending the conference.
This was not the first attempt at a health fair, according to McCoy, who said one held at the 2003 Florida Annual Conference Event was not as well attended. That didn’t mean some people weren’t drastically affected by it, however, says Barbara Peace, a long-time board member.

“When we had it five years ago they sent three people to the hospital whose blood pressure was so high they were in danger of having a stoke or heart attack while they attended conference,” Pearce said. “And they had no idea. ”

In addition to having their blood pressures checked, clergy and laity were also able to have their cholesterol levels tested. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0904.

Pearce also said seven people were diagnosed as diabetic.

Given those results, the board felt it was important to offer another health fair during an annual conference session as a way to support health care for clergy, their families and retirees.

The board worked with the conference’s health care provider, United Healthcare, and Lakeland Regional Medical Center, along with a vendor recommended by United Healthcare that provides health fair screenings. Board members also worked through a local vendor to provide massage therapy at no cost to appointed clergy.

“It’s the convenience of having the fair here and not having to arrange for an appointment to see a doctor or go to the lab,” McCoy said during the fair. “Having everything here where they can get a quick result and a health status is really important to the board.”
Unlike the fair in 2003, Pearce said, many people this year did want to find out more about their health. During the last business session of the conference, Pearce reported 524 people visited the health fair, twice as many as in 2003.

The Rev. Dr. Richard Fife, appointed in an extension ministry with VITAS Healthcare Corporation, was one of them. He received his results and said he supports the board’s idea of making clergy more aware of their health. “I think it’s a good thing to do,” he said.

McCoy believes part of the health fair’s success was due to conference leaders encouraging clergy to attend. Several times during the annual conference session Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker encouraged members to get screened.

It worked for lay member Sally Semple. “The bishop kept telling us to come here, so I’m here,” she said at the fair. 

Many took their results humorously in stride, saying, “I’m going to live! I’m going to live!” That phrase was repeated numerous times as people got their results and walked away from the fair. 

Eighty people took advantage of the health fair’s massage therapy. Photo #08-0905.

Pearce and McCoy say most of the people who took advantage of the health screenings received fairly good results, and no one was advised to go to the hospital.

“The nurses have told us that they have been surprised, even with the age of our population, (that) we’ve had really good results.” McCoy said. “There have been a few people that they recommended to see a doctor right away or to be aware of a condition that maybe they weren’t (aware of). But for the most part, they’ve really been very pleased at how in good health many of our folks have been.” 
During her report, Pearce said 209 of the 400 people who had their blood pressure checked had healthy blood pressure, 93 had moderately good blood pressure and 98 had high blood pressure. Of the 400 people who had their cholesterol checked, 316 had good cholesterol, 63 had moderately good cholesterol and 21 had high cholesterol, she said.

“The board really wants to try to help clergy to take advantage of the resources that are available to them,” McCoy said, “whether it’s through the (conference) insurance plan or what you get through that plan, but really just to highlight how important we think it is for them to take care of themselves.”
Pearce agrees. “We have focused on healthy living because if we are healthy we can better serve our church and Christ,” she said. “We have to take care of ourselves to be able to take care of others. If we have a little discipline and work at it and encourage each other then we all can be healthy United Methodists and better serve the church.”


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Downey is a freelance writer based in Kissimmee, Fla., and director of programming and evangelism at First United Methodist Church, Kissimmee.