Coming to Charlotte: A health conference with a focus on churches

Pernessa Seele, founder and CEO of The Balm in Gilead, talks with Qcitymetro about her upcoming Healthy Churches 2020 conference, which arrives in Charlotte November 4.
Pernessa Seele

A Virginia organization with a faith-based focus on health in the African American community is bringing a national conference to Charlotte November 4-6 at the Hilton Charlotte University Place.

Pernessa Seele, founder and CEO of The Balm in Gilead, said the Healthy Churches 2020 conference is designed for congregational leaders who oversee health ministries, kitchen ministries and other health-related ministries.

She spoke with Qcitymetro about the three-day event and why she believes church leaders must become more proactive in promoting healthy lifestyles. Some of her comments were edited for brevity and clarity.

Q. What is Healthy Churches 2020?

Healthy Churches 2020 is our national conference. It is the only faith-based and public health conference created to bring church folks together to address health issues. It is a conference where health professionals and doctors come together to talk to people in our congregations who run the health ministries, members of the kitchen ministries, missionaries, deacons, people who are active in outreach, to give them the skills and information and resources to be able to help our folks in the community.

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Q. Why focus on churches?

In the African American community, the church is a central organization. It’s where we mobilize our community. It’s a central community in which we disperse information. When we look at the tremendous burden of health on the African American community – whether its diabetes, whether it’s hepatitis C, or whether it’s breast cancer or prostate cancer – we just have an overwhelming incidence of just about every disease you can imagine. So we’re asking our churches to really get serious about helping their members and the community about addressing health issues. We as a people are having untimely deaths, and we must stop. We must work together.

Q. Are you seeing churches stepping up to do that?

Absolutely. The Balm in Gilead, we’ve been around for over 26 years, and we have been involved in helping establish over a thousand health ministries throughout this country. I can look at a church like Grace Baptist Church up in New York that has over 44 physicians in that church. But we also have churches out there in Yemassee, South Carolina, that may not have ministries like that, but they have someone – I always call her Sister Mary – who is always going out helping the sick and shut-in, trying to send information out on diabetes prevention. We want every church, in big ways and small ways, to be able to educate that congregation and that community about health issues.

Q. How old is this conference?

This is our second year. We’re doing workshops on mental health, because our churches must be able to address mental health. We have a workshop on emergency preparedness, making sure our churches and the people in our churches have a toolkit and are prepared for the next emergency that is coming. We have workshops on nutrition. And one of the things that I’m excited about…the American Heart Association is providing a free CPR-certification class.

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Q. How will this year be different than last year?

We’ve learned a few things, but we’ve also expanded the conversation. This year we’re breaking up men and women – men go one way, and women go another way for a couple hours — to address issues in the privacy of womanhood or the privacy of manhood, to talk about those issues that we sometimes don’t want to talk about in front of each other. We have a doctor and a preacher who will be talking with the men about men’s health. At the same time, on the women’s side, we’ll have the Rev. Dr. Renita Weems and Dr. Linda Bradley, who is a physician out of the Cleveland Clinic and is an expert on fibroids and menstrual disorders.

For more information or to register, visit the conference website.