With millions of miles in the books, 'Walking Challenge' moves to 2012
Written by Jeff. Woodard
December 14, 2011

The "Let's Move" gathering took place Dec. 9 in Washington, D.C.

A quarter of a million miles later, UCC participants in the "Three Million Walking Challenge" issued by First Lady Michelle Obama have earned a rest.

But they'll want to keep their sneakers nearby: Much more movement is being mapped in 2012 for the pavement-pounding component of the First Lady’s national "Let's Move" initiative.

"As of Dec. 9, the UCC had turned in 256,150 miles, with about 200 churches and 2,600 members participating," said Barbara Baylor, UCC minister for health care justice, during a "Let's Move" meeting in Washington, D.C. "We celebrate the fact that the faith community participated in large numbers and is moving forward to continue with 'Let’s Move' around the country."

Bolting from the starting blocks of the campaign, the UCC has played a lead role in getting its congregations up and keeping them moving. Local churches have lifted up in increasing numbers the benefits of regular exercise and healthful eating.

On the national level, visual examples of "Let's Move" were evident this past summer at General Synod 28 in Tampa, Fla. Dozens of Synod-goers undertook lengthy walks in high humidity to arrive at the Tampa Convention Center. Once there, flash mobs –– both inside and out –– danced, sang and celebrated the joys of a healthful lifestyle. Baylor did likewise, at one point leading dozens on the General Synod stage and hundreds in the audience in a get-your-heart-pumping aerobic session.

Overall, 2.8 million miles had been reported, making the 3 million goal still within reach after final tallies trickle in, said Baylor.

About 30 people, including several presidents of mainline denominations, attended the Dec. 9 meeting. Among topics were reports of miles walked and a plenary session featuring representatives of diverse faith communities, said Baylor.

"We talked about how we can sustain this momentum within the faith community," she said.

Following the meeting, the group attended a White House holiday reception and met President Obama and the First Lady. Also on hand were members of the First Lady’s staff, including Judith Palfrey, executive director of "Let's Move."

"They were so proud of the faith communities for their efforts," said Baylor.

Moving into 2012, meeting attendees reached a general consensus on a plan focused on leadership, organization and action.

"We looked at how we can establish wellness as a priority for churches, and leading by example with consistent messaging," said Baylor. "We are really looking at clergy, how they can take more of a leadership role."

Identifying "wellness ambassadors" to create and lead wellness councils for individual churches was strongly supported, said Baylor, noting that the UCC has already moved in that direction. She cited "Healthy Connectors," a program designed to identify and train lay ministers to establish or enhance health ministries in their UCC churches, and passage of the General Synod 28 resolution on "Mindful and Faithful Eating" as examples.

Attendees also discussed launching additional health-improvement programs to complement "Let's Move" activities in 2012, said Baylor, including:

•    Affordable, accessible foods –– Increasing churches’ participation in working with local community gardens and farmers markets, developing feeding programs during summer months

•    "Let's Move" –– Continuing the program, encouraging churches to increase youth involvement in the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award challenge

•    Mindful and faithful eating –– Using the "Just Eating: Practicing Our Faith at the Table." Created by the Presbyterian Hunger Program in conjunction with Church World Service and Advocate Health Care, the program has gained momentum on the heels of the UCC’s highly successful Mission:1 campaign to fight hunger.

•    Healthful eating –– Encouraging churches to use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s "MyPlate" guidelines when preparing community and congregational meals, and hosting nutrition education classes at church.

In addition, Baylor said interest has been sparked in forming a "First Ladies Summit," at which spouses of elected officials and clergy nationwide convene to promote regular exercise and sound nutritional practices.

"We really want the faith community to continue working with the First Lady and her staff to raise a healthier generation of kids," said Baylor.

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