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Healthy faith network takes on obesity epidemic

A new faith-based network is gearing up to tackle one of the Mountain State’s most pressing health issues, and to spread a message familiar to many — “the body is a temple.”

The West Virginia Healthy Bodies, Healthy Spirits Network, a collaborative network of churches from across the state, has partnered with Try This! West Virginia, a collaborative effort among West Virginia communities and agencies to combat the state’s obesity epidemic. The “healthy faith network” began in October, after more than 100 people from 15 denominations signed on to participate in the network’s day-long launch event at West Virginia Wesleyan College, and on Thursday, a steering committee gathered in Charleston to discuss the group’s goals and mission.

“The great thing is the collaboration; you sit around the table with people who have different ideas or different perspectives, and you say, ‘oh, I could use that,’” said Lynn Keener, an ordained pastor with the Church of the Nazarene and a faith-based liaison for Hospice in 12 counties. “Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are something God inhabits — therefore, we need to take care of these bodies to serve the god we serve more effectively.”

The steering committee represents nine denominations and nine West Virginia counties. According to Keener, the group hopes to expand its reach and presence in the state in the coming months — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has proclaimed March “Health Bodies, Healthy Spirits” Month, and the network will visit the Capitol to connect with those interested in incorporating the healthy living projects promoted by Try This! and the faith network in their churches and communities.

LeeAnn Shreve, the eastern region coordinator for Our Children, Our Future, said she has already developed a plan to further the network by visiting two ministerial associations each month in the counties she works in.

“I’ll be meeting with 15 or more ministers, pastors and church leaders at once and presenting them with information and asking them to join our network,” she said. “From that, if they want me to come and do an individual presentation at their church, I can.”

Jenny Anderson, an Americorps VISTA volunteer with Try This!, said she had incorporated her faith into her own wellness journey, and wanted to see that connection furthered through the Healthy Bodies, Healthy Spirits Network, especially as it relates to youth in the state.

“You can’t always reach the kids in school, but the churches are another outlet to reach youth and their families,” Anderson said. “That’s what’s driving me — getting the youth involved and the community gathered together to get healthy.”

For Keener, her status as a pastor and her work through Hospice have given her perspective on the preventable diseases that plague many West Virginians, and she hopes the network will do more to provide them with the resources they need to make better choices.

“I see patients younger than I am who pass away from illnesses that are preventable and it’s just heartbreaking,” she said. “These are wonderful people who either made poor choices or didn’t know they could make better choices, and often, it was that they couldn’t make better choices — they couldn’t see a better way forward.”

The network will have a booth at Kids and Families Day, to be held at the Capitol on Jan. 28. Churches or individuals interested in joining the network can contact Keener at lkeener@hospicecarecorp.org or Try This! coordinator Joshua Sowards at Joshua@ourfuturewv.org.

For more information on the Healthy Bodies, Healthy Spirits Network, visit www.wvhealthyfaith.com. Try This! also has a website, www.trythiswv.com, where users can find more than 100 how-to’s on healthy cooking, starting exercise programs and generating funding for community projects.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at

lydia.nuzum@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5189 or follow

@lydianuzum on Twitter.

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