Story Magazine

Second Quarter, 2003

21-day Challenge Jump Starts Leaders to Good Health

Master of divinity students Linda Webster (left) and Rachel Oldfather handed out t-shirts to participants.

If clergy and church leaders aren't taking care of themselves, how can they take care of a congregation?

"The healthier you are, the better chance you have in being a successful leader," Lydia Volz, Luther Seminary parish nurse, said. "We have to start here, at the seminary, to teach the church's future leaders to make positive lifestyle choices.We can't wait until they get out in the congregation."

To help the Luther Seminary community understand the power of positive change, the Student Council sponsored a 21-day Healthy Leaders Challenge during Lent--following the adage that it takes 21 days to form a habit. More than 165 seminary students, faculty, staff and spouses joined the challenge.

"We found statistics on the ELCA Web site about how unhealthy most pastors are. It was quite distressing," said Linda Webster, a master of divinity student council representative and one of the coordinators of the challenge. "We wanted to raise awareness and find areas where we could help students improve their health."

Participants in the challenge received a water bottle and a journal to help track goals. Those who turned in their journals at the end of the 21 days got a T-shirt. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and the Office of Seminary Relations provided supplies and funds to help cover costs.

"We didn't have a plan people had to follow. Everybody has different ways to improve their health,"Webster said. "They had to come up with their own goals--be it to get more sleep, to drink more water, to walk a little more every day, or to start eating better."

One of the most successful elements of the challenge was Dining Services' cooperation in providing a daily 1200- and 1800-calorie menu, and posting the menu on Inside Luther, the seminary's Intranet site.

During the 21 days Luther's wellness committee looked for many ways to help participants reach their goals. In addition to the healthy menu plan, they sponsored yoga and aerobics classes, led an afternoon walking group, posted inspirational quotes on Inside Luther and hired certified personal trainers to be resources in Luther Seminary's gym. Park Nicollet HealthSource offered a comprehensive health risk assessment--including a cholesterol check--at the beginning of the session.

Volz and Webster would like to see the challenge repeated in the future, possibly twice a year.

"I'm still hearing from people that they're sticking to their goals," Volz said. "I certainly think the work we've done to raise awareness is a good start."