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Leading Others Down the Wellness Path

Beth Birkholz

Pastor Beth Birkholz
Marietta, Georgia
May 2010

In January of 2009, about ten women (and a couple men) were brave enough to follow their new pastor into the wilds of suburban Atlanta, Georgia, and walk, run, jog, or shuffle for thirty minutes every Tuesday night, followed by a brief Bible study and prayer. We called it the "New Year's Resolution Bible Study" because it fulfilled several of those things that we usually resolve to do each year: exercise more, pray more, read the Bible more. We ended our session with a 5K race in Atlanta which everyone finished, and they all received a flower and t-shirt as congratulations.

In 2010, several NEW women (and a couple men) decided to come on the adventure. During the rainiest, coldest winter and spring that Atlanta has had in years, as many as 20 women (and a couple men) met to run/walk/shuffle for 30 minutes or so, and then met at a member's nearby house for coffee and a book study (Faith and Fitness, by Tom Hafer). Again the women (and one man) ran the 5K race in Atlanta, and again everyone finished strong to receive their flower, t-shirt, and bagel at the end!

As their pastor, I was just so pleased to be literally leading these ladies down the path of wellness. I think my biggest surprise both years was how much fun it is to study the Bible and our faith after 30 minutes of aerobic exercise! There's so much more energy and laughter when you've been out in the cool (COLD) air together, moving your bodies.

And the ideas that came from everyone to take this further were wonderful and, dare I say it, world-changing. We will host a "veggie and fruit" exchange at our church this summer for our extra bounty from our gardens; we'll start a yoga class this fall; we'll keep on running 5Ks every month to keep up our good work. And when we do these things, we learned, we'll have more energy to keep serving God better and longer! And we'll feel happier and more satisfied with ourselves and our lives — "signs of your gracious love."

Practical tips to start your own group:

  • Set a time limit for your running/walking class. Ours was 10 weeks, about the length of time it takes to go from walking to jogging a 5K (3.1 miles). If you want to meet once a month afterwards to keep it up, as we have, that's great too. Other groups have continued to meet each Tuesday to walk/run in between the sessions.
  • Make sure you have at least a few people for each pace (walking only, walk/jogging, jogging only) so no one walks/runs by her/himself.
  • Set a goal. Ours was the Atlanta Women's 5K, which caters to women and gives out flowers and cute t-shirts at the end.
  • Use an established training program. We used "Couch to 5K," but there are many variations for all levels online. This one seemed to fit for the most people, though.
  • Find a book to study, or write your own. I did that the first year and am hoping to publish my "running Bible study" by 2011.

Have FUN. If the only thing you learn is that exercising the body God gave you can be fun, that's fantastic.

Note: Pastor Beth Birkholz first became a Wellness Voice in 2007, writing bravely about her family's struggle with heart disease and her decision to embrace running and healthier eating. In 2008, after reading Beth’s Wellness Voice, the Women of the ELCA invited her to lead the 4K Run/Walk/Roll event held during its 7th Triennial Gathering conference.

email Share your Wellness Voice at livewell@porticobenefits.org

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