Taking control: Methodist church wellness program takes a proactive approach to health
Published on Friday, May 27, 2011
by Melony Overton - The Port Lavaca Wave
'It will be a double blessing if you give yourself up to the Great Physician, that He may heal soul and body together. And unquestionably this is His design. He wants to give you . . . both inward and outward health.' - John Wesley in a letter to Alexander Knox written in 1778
Wellness within the United Methodist Church concentrates on the whole person and encompasses the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well being of the faithful.
John Wesley, 1703-1791, was a Church of England cleric and Christian theologian who is largely credited, along with his brother, Charles Wesley, with founding the Methodist movement, which began when John took to open-air preaching.
Wesley was one of the earliest proponents of wellness. Methodism was a highly successful evangelical movement in the United Kingdom, which encouraged people to experience Jesus Christ personally.
The Rev. James Amerson, pastor of Point Comfort United Methodist Church, recently called to mind a famous John Wesley quote which reads, "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can as long as ever you can."
"These instructions from John Wesley are superlative to our existence. It is so important for us to find time with God," Amerson said. "The Sabbath is a day of holy rest. But in Western culture, we work nine hours a day with no vacation and no time to rest and be with family or to renew our body and mind."
Amerson sees his personal ministry as one that promotes balance in the life of his congregation.
"We must claim our emotions. If you are out of balance, you must know why you are frustrated and how to get that frustration out of your life," he said. "We must meditate, pray and not let our emotions get the best of us."
One of Amerson's favorite Bible verses is John 10:10, which reads, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
"I want to convey that abundant life is the best life, the life Jesus Christ wants for us," Amerson said. "If you feel better, you are more in tune to a higher spirit, or you become more spiritual. That gives you strength."
The pastor said this is the message Wesley brought to peasants and wealthy alike in 18th-century England.
"John Wesley existed during an industrial age. A clash of cultures was taking place. The miners and the peasants were not wealthy. The upper middle class had it better. What Wesley promoted was an attitude change. He went to the people, to the taverns and the mines to say that life is about more than what you think it is," Amerson said.
"People were on fire for John Wesley's methods about taking control of their own life. It had to be a movement. This isn't something you can legislate. I think every denomination has wellness as a fundamental objective, but the tenants have to be willing to take it on. Our culture is drifting away from it again - the attitude of giving your body a chance to rest," he said.
Amerson said "no one is exempt" from this basic wellness guideline. A person has to embrace all aspects of wellness - the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual components - for total balance to occur.
"It's about balancing the 24 hours in a day. A healthy body allows you to think and react better to your emotions. For example, after a good night's sleep, you are not so grouchy," the pastor said. "People are compromising a lot for the sake of money. You need time to spend with family and friends. You need to laugh. We have to go to people and remind them, like John Wesley did. We have to get people to start thinking, 'Am I out of balance?'"
"Salvation is not just going to heaven, but a present deliverance from sin, a restoration of the soul to its primitive health." - John Wesley
Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc., is a private, faith-based, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing medical and health-related human services to low-income families and the uninsured in South Texas. These services include primary care medical and dental clinics, support services like counseling, case management and social services, family wellness and parenting programs and church-based community nursing programs.
The mission statement of the organization is "Serving humanity to honor God" by improving the physical, mental and spiritual health of those least served in the Southwest Texas Conference area of the United Methodist Church.
Wesley Nurse Health Ministries is a faith-based program that serves church sites throughout South Texas by providing Wesley Nurses to minister to those in need. WNHM is geographically the largest outreach program of MHM of South Texas, Inc., growing from 13 Wesley Nurses to 80 within 12 years.
The professional practice of the Wesley Nurse is not limited to the physical dimension of medical needs; rather, it includes a mind, body and spirit holistic approach by offering education, health promotion and the facilitation of resources. The partnership of church, nurse and community is the core of this holistic program.
Amerson is appreciative of what the Wesley Nurses do.
"As a pastor, I do a lot of crisis intervention. I don't get to be as proactive as a Wesley Nurse, but these nurses are ministers, too. They are able to help people with diet, stress and how pressure can make a person anxious," he said.
Signy Sizer and Kassie Billings, both registered nurses, also are Wesley Nurses. Sizer is based at First United Methodist Church of Port Lavaca. Billings is based at the Point Comfort United Methodist Church.
"We are supposed to look after this temple we are given. So many of us forget to take care of what we have," Sizer said in reference to the body. "We are here to serve the congregation and the community. The whole premise of the Wesley Nurse program is to improve the health and wellness of the community."
Sizer became a Wesley Nurse in April 2009 after working as a nurse at Memorial Medical Center for close to 30 years.
"I think it was meant to be," Sizer said of her choice to become a Wesley Nurse. "I came to know of the Wesley Nurses 10 years ago when at that time the former Wesley Nurse of the Port Lavaca First United Methodist Church said this is the job for you. Once I learned more about the job, I found out that I can have more of an impact in the community for wellness."
Sizer does a significant amount of diabetic teaching for those who are not insured or on Medicare as well as obtaining diabetic meters and strips for them.
"Sometimes, people come looking for resources and there aren't any. All we can do as a Wesley Nurse is listen, but that can go a long way," Sizer said.
From First United Methodist Church, Sizer provides a "Walking and Sit Down & Tone Up" program on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, chair dancing on Tuesdays and Thursdays, "From Mourning to Dawn," a grief support group, and a prayer shawl ministry on Wednesdays.
Once a month, guest speakers also offer health and wellness programs from the church, recently tackling the issue of skin cancer awareness. The next program is on Balance and Fall Prevention, at 2 p.m. June 7 at the church, at 814 San Antonio St.
"We are working toward total wellness where we look at the individual physically, emotionally and spiritually," Sizer said. "As a hospital nurse for so many years, I concentrated on the physical signs of wellness. It has been a gradual process for me to look at the total person."
What Sizer enjoys the most are the individual education sessions.
"When people come back, and you see that they have made a total improvement in their health, it is very rewarding," she said. "Type II diabetes is rampant in our country. I see it as a personal challenge. We can show people that we can have control of our own personal health."
Sizer said so many times optimal health occurs after people of faith take the first step, which is to relinquish control of their health to God.
"I think it comes down to hope and trust in the Lord. Faith helps in medical crises. It's a work in progress, but some people can do it. We are going to do with what we have," Sizer said. "That was John Wesley's message."
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