A Healthy Church Starts With Healthy Seminarians

How one seminary takes a preemptive strike on unhealthy clergy trends

by Mary Boland

Illustration by Terri Scott

At Columbia Theological Seminary, there’s a new health kick.

“Kick the Can … and other Sugary Foods” challenges participating seminarians to reduce their sugar intake throughout the Lenten season. The program was developed by The Healthy Seminarians–Healthy Church Initiative (HSHC) which was started by Karen and Travis Webster to address the growing issue of unhealthy clergy. Statistically, clergy are often unhealthier than the general population, and the Websters believe that addressing health concerns early, while soon-to-be clergy are still in seminary, is a central part of reversing this trend.

For Lent in 2016, the HSHC set up the second year of their Lenten challenge at Columbia, daring teams of participating seminarians, faculty, staff, and even some seminary community family members to kick the habit of consuming sugary foods and drinks. They chose Lent as the backdrop for this challenge in order to harness the energy people already felt for embracing personal discipline and change during Lent and encouraging them not only to give something up, but to make an effort to transform their health.

The program was built from two existing campaigns, the Kick the Can Campaign and FED UP Challenge, both of which focus on nutrition and advocate for cutting back on sugar consumption. Karen and the HSHC team have taken challenges from these two organizations and tailored their own challenge to be more holistic. The HSHC awards participants “bonus points” each week for nutrition-based achievements, such as consuming five different colors of fruits and vegetables and drinking 64 ounces of water each day. Points are also awarded for engaging in physical activity, observing a spiritual discipline, and using reusable plates, cups, and utensils for meals.

To learn more about the HSHC and ways you can get yourself and your faith community involved, visit healthyseminarians-healthychurch.org.

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