After 47 years of nursing, Lilly Foster is full of wisdom, especially when it comes to helping her congregation stay healthy. She serves as the PHW health lead for St. James Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC, and stays busy coordinating several different health activities at the church.
The Golden Age Seniors’ Ministry at St. James regularly exercises together at the local YMCA, which provided discounted memberships for the seniors at the church. Lilly also leads a walking group for seniors, Walking by Faith. To promote the group, she held a luncheon at Ruby Tuesday, where attendees ate fresh vegetables from the salad bar and learned about the benefits of walking from Lilly: “When people think of walking, all they think of is exercise, and it is exercise, but there’s also how it helps your mental status, your heart, your balance, and your mood. If you’re feeling a little down, and you get out and you start walking, it really elevates your mood.”
Other ministries at the church are also busy promoting health. For example, the women’s ministry hosted an event last year for Healthy Heart Awareness Month. The YMCA provided a room and they brought in a professional line dancing instructor who led a fun line dancing class. Around 50 women participated, from ages 55 to 80. They hope to host a similar event in the future with water aerobics. The Boy Scouts troop that meets at the church also promotes healthy physical activity through ski trips and swimming, and the culinary ministry supports the congregation to have a healthy diet by offering veggie trays, salads, and baked (rather than fried) chicken. The church is also able to provide healthy snacks for children during children’s church. “They get healthy snacks – juices and little veggie sticks, and the children don’t even realize they’re eating vegetables until she tells them and they like it.”
St. James Baptist is also proud to support two community gardens. “The first time that we started the raised garden, we partnered with the children’s summer vacation camp. And we let the children plant the garden and taught them how to tend the garden, to go out and pull the weeds and prop up the tomato plants. When they were ready, we would pick the vegetables with them. We had one experience that every time I think about it, it brings tears to my eyes. I had looked in the garden and I saw this beautiful bell pepper. So I thought, ‘This is going to be pretty exciting for the children to be able to spot this.’ So when we finished lunch, we went out into the garden, and I said, ‘Okay, everybody look around and tell us what you see.’ Of course a little boy, ‘Oh boy! I see something, I see a bug!’ ‘Yes, yes, but what do you see growing? Do you see anything growing on the plants that you planted?’ And they looked and looked, and finally someone spotted the bell pepper and she said, ‘What is this!?’ And all the children ran over to see, and I said, ‘Some people call it a bell pepper, it’s a green pepper—you planted that little pepper plant, and look what happened.’ And that still didn’t register. She said, ‘Is it real?’ I said, ‘Yes darling, it’s real.’ She said, ‘How did it get there?’ I told her, ‘God put it there.’ She said, ‘God was here!?’ What a wonderful opportunity it gave us. I couldn’t talk so the teacher took over to explain how we plant little seeds, and we put the little plants in the garden, but it’s God who comes and adds the increase – every time they hear that term, adds the increase, God adds the increase, now they know what it means.”
Lilly, who is a fantastic story-teller, also explained how the second garden began: “Twice a month on Saturdays we would go to a place called Service Center, a shelter for homeless and disabled veterans. We would prepare breakfast, and they loved it so much when we would come over. And the president of our organization decided he wanted to go over on his own and help them prepare dinner meals. When he got over there, and saw how unhealthy the food was that they were eating, he decided to start a second garden and provide vegetables. He says that he ‘raises salads’: lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers . . . everything that goes in a salad. Some of the veterans actually come out and work in the garden, and several have actually joined the church as a result of that. They have limited funds at the service center, so they can’t always go out and buy fresh fruits and vegetables, but we were able to give them an abundance this summer.”
Lilly also talked about how the church promotes healthy lifestyles in the congregation. “We don’t like to talk about obesity so often because it has such a negative stigma. When we can approach it from the aspect that, if you do some basic things, simple, basic things—make a point of walking, just fifteen minutes, three times per week, it can make a difference in your health. Put smaller portions of food on your plate. Don’t cook so much if you’re the one who prepares meals in the home—everybody will be full. I think we’re just so accustomed to overeating. The fact is, obesity really is a big problem. I admire our pastor because he addresses various issues from the pulpit. Throughout the year, he’ll mention how much healthier it is to trim back some, do things to stay healthy and be around for your grandchildren and your great grandchildren—don’t just think about yourself. Yes, that dish of food looks great today and you feel like you just have to eat it all. But think about those behind you that you would like to be here to be a part of their life.”
Lilly believes strongly in the connection between faith and health, and her conviction is clear in her dedication to health and well-being at St. James. “God created us to be healthy. It’s God’s purpose for us to be healthy. Our bodies are a temple, and God intends for us to take care of this temple, and—this isn’t original because my father was a minister and he preached this sermon years ago—when God created the world, he created everything that man needed before he created man. Everything you need to be healthy, everything you need, every herb, every medicine, everything you need, God was so merciful that He put it here before He put us here. So God expects that of us, and He was good enough to give us everything we need so all we have to do is utilize it. We can do things in moderation – sure, we all love desserts – have desserts, but you don’t have to eat the whole cake! Have a slice of cake, treat yourself once in awhile. That’s all part of what God’s plan for us is.”
Thank you to Lilly and everyone at St. James Baptist for all their hard work and dedication to health and wholeness!