St. John CME Church’s “40 Ways in 40 Days” Lent campaign aims to help churchgoers gain faith while losing pounds.
Rev. Peris Lester, who became the church’s pastor in August, conceived of the idea. The program is twofold. The “40 Ways to Lose” portion consists of fasting and exercise and is designed to help members shed pounds and negative behaviors. The “40 Ways to Gain” component emphasizes a closer relationship with God and the greater community.
Parishioners can select from a variety of suggested fasts to tackle during the Lenten season, which extends from Feb. 13 to March 30. There are language fasts, where churchgoers try to avoid lying, gossiping and cursing; habit fasts, during which they give up unhealthy habits such as overeating, smoking or drinking; and more traditional fasts, where members give up certain foods or abstain from eating during given times of the day.
Members are asked to turn their fasts into monetary gain for the church, by leaving the money they would have spent on the items they are abstaining from in the offering basket on Sundays.
“Jesus teaches us in Mark that certain things can only happen by fasting and praying,” said Lester, a Chicago native and father of two. “…We talk about losing but we’re also gaining in our relationship. I call it DC2G: drawing closer to God.”
The church is helping members stick to their fasts and health goals by hosting regular special programs. Daily Prayer services are held on weekdays from 6-7 a.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 8-9 a.m.; Zumba sessions, walking classes and revivals are held weekly. The church is also hosting a biggest loser contest, offering a cash prize for the member who loses the most weight during the Lenten season. Last week, 22 members weighed- in, staking their claim to the winning prize.
“Keeping up with the First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative Let’s Move, we’re moving to lose some of those physical weights in terms of getting our health together,” Lester stated. “…Oftentimes when we come to church, we just meet and eat. We want to worship God in freedom, but also we want to move.”
Aurora Ill.-native Kay Pate is leading Zumba classes at the church every Friday. The first session on Feb. 15 was a hit, attracting 25 participants, Pate reported.
“It went really well. Everyone was energetic, happy, smiling faces,” she said. “Pastor just inspired the whole congregation to get on board.”
Pate, a tax accountant and St. John member for the past four years, praised the 40 Days program.
“I absolutely love it,” said the mother of one, who has lost more than 60 pounds over the past five years through diet and exercise. “…You’re not only losing the weight of everyday life, you’re also losing the physical weight and everything that comes with that. It’s a blessing. It’s going to change lives.”
Longtime St. John members Lillian Thompson and Carolyn Harper, a retired registered nurse, organize the walking class, which follows a series of video workouts based on stationary walking. The program was initially started by a former pastor but fizzled after his departure, reported Thompson. The two women revived it last spring and have convened the class each Monday since. Class participation ballooned from its typical 10-12 members to more than two dozen last Monday, as congregants inspired by the 40 Days campaign flocked to take part.
“Those of us that are in the group for the most part have made a commitment that we’re going to take off some weights that have been weighing us down on the inside,” said Harper, who is cutting out red meats and fried foods for the fast.
St. John member Lantonya Ealy is among the congregants who have signed on to take part. Ealy, a former CNA, doesn’t exercise regularly on her own, but when the church took the project on, she said she was inspired to get involved.
“It makes you excited because you get to know each other more and everybody pushes each other to keep going,” commented mother of two. “It’s like teamwork.”
Ealy said the 40 Days project is the latest example of how Lester is improving the lives of his flock.
“I think we will have a greater relationship with Christ because he (Lester) challenges us all the time,” she commented. “It’s a great thing, and I thank God for it because he has a great vision for the body of Christ at St. John.”
Lester, who participates in the workouts alongside his congregants, is already making plans to incorporate other health-focused initiatives in St. John activities down the road, such as the Sweatsuit Sundays, popularized by Union Baptist Pastor Dr. Sir Walter Mack Jr.
Lester is hopeful that the 40 Days initiative will lead to healthier lives for St. John members.
“One thing about the African American community is we lead in all things negative: heart attacks, stroke, and some of that can be controlled if we change some of our habits,” he said. “Research shows that if you do something for 21 days, it becomes a habit, so prayerfully, it can become a lifestyle.”
St. John is located at 350 Crawford St. All 40 Days programs are free and open to the public. For more information, call 336-725-3968.