The word “wellness” is used frequently and in different ways, so it's important to understand what we mean by “wellness ministries” at St. Stephen’s Church. First of all, we might say what we do not mean.
St. Stephen’s Church is not a “spiritual spa” where individuals come for self-indulgent pampering. Rather, our wellness ministries are intended to promote the kind of spiritual focus and prayerful attentiveness that can lead to a more compassionate life, a life that is grounded in the Way of Jesus. And, of course, all that we do is set in the ancient, life-giving rhythm of prayer – weekly communion with God and one another; some sort of daily devotion, such as the recitation of psalms and scripture readings from Daily Morning and Evening Prayer; and, following the example of Jesus, regular times of private, contemplative prayer, times for “resting in God.”
Wellness, recollection, and salvation
The importance of wellness ministries at St. Stephen’s has its roots in the ancient Christian understanding of “recollection” and “salvation.” Some of the earliest Christians recognized the importance of stepping back from what Jesus called “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth,” in order to recall or “recollect” the self by remembering who we are and our deeper purpose. In our over-busy and high tech culture, in which many feel spiritually numb and emotionally scattered, nothing could be more important than this discipline of collecting oneself and recalling the deepest truth about who we are as children of God.
Similarly, to be saved is not simply a matter of believing or doing the right things in order to go to heaven when you die. Instead, to be saved can be understood, quite simply, as being made whole and well. The second century theologian, Irenaeus of Lyons, famously said that "the glory of God is a human being who is fully alive." Our wellness ministries seek to promote habits and disciplines that re-center us in God, “the Lord and giver of life.”
The New Testament word for “salvation” is the same word for “healing” and “making whole.” Our English word, “salve,” helps us to recover this ancient understanding of salvation. A salve, of course, is an ointment or other agent of healing. But again, this is far from a narcissistic endeavor. The litmus test for spiritual healing is not a buff body, a peaceful mind, and a life that is removed from the sufferings of the world. Rather, the fruit of healing and wellness, as we understand these things, is a life that is growing in compassion for others.
Wellness ministries at St. Stephen's Church
St. Stephen's offers groups, classes, retreats and other opportunities to help people make healthy and informed choices about the things that affect physical, spiritual and mental health. In addition to the classes listed below, and the retreats we offer here at church and at the Society of St. John the Evangelist, we see our Farmers Market as part of this ministry. So is a food ministry that provides nourishing foods to those who cannot afford them, and Sunday Community Suppers which emphasize fresh, local ingredients, as well as fellowship. Suppers are donation-based to allow the broadest possible participation.
Our wellness ministries are interrelated, and when we participate in one, we often strengthen the others. For example, we support local farmers by providing a weekly farmers market...and by purchasing ingredients from market vendors for our community suppers. The vendors, in turn, donate unsold produce, meat and eggs to the pantry, allowing us to provide fresh, local, nutritious food along with canned and boxed staples to our food pantry clients. All of God's people, regardless of their financial circumstances, have a share in the fruits of the earth.
Cherry Jones, nurse practitioner, and Dale Purrington, pediatric nurse practitioner, offer this class with presentations and discussion centered around Michael Pollan’s short book, Food Rules. (Copies are available for purchase in the Bookshop @ St. Stephen's.) Participants learn how to eat more simply and healthfully, and in the process discover the reasons behind some of the more important "rules." The class demonstrates how dramatically the modern western diet has changed and why culturally indigenous diets have historically been so much healthier than typical practices today. This class builds on the assumption that caring for our bodies is inextricably linked to caring for our souls and our minds, and the goal is to give us tools and information for making healthy, life-giving choices. This class will be offered again beginning in January 2015.
These classes help participants increase strength, flexibility, and balance, remove tension, focus the mind and teach the practitioner to use breathing as a way to relax the body. It is suitable for all ages and abilities. We offer three weekly yoga classes (Monday evening, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.), and will begin a chair yoga offering in 2015; and a Chi Kung class on Tuesday evenings at 6. Beginners are welcome at all of these classes.
The suggested donation is $10 per class; you do not have to come every week (though it's beneficial to do so), nor do you need to register in advance.
Loose-fitting clothing such as you would wear to an exercise class is recommended. No equipment other than a yoga mat is needed.
The current schedule is here.
Led by Jo Ann Bibb
Learning to be still and present is a key component of wellness and growth in the spiritual life, and an important tool for anyone who wishes to learn classical disciplines of Christian meditation and to receive the gift of contemplation. This class is also valuable for people who are looking for new ways of dealing with stress, using the same principles used in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a proven method for reducing stress. Classes are offered several times a year, both for beginning students and continuing practitioners. Pre-registration is requested. There is a suggested donation of $45 for each six-week course, though you may pay more or less, as you are able. The latest information and registration link are on our classes page.
The food ministry at St. Stephen’s is inspired by the Eucharist, the central act of worship in the Christian faith. Through the Eucharist, Christians believe that they are fed by God so that they can feed others. Our food ministry includes a Sunday Community Supper open to all (since it is donation-based, any who cannot pay for a meal are welcome); a weekly food pantry distribution for those who suffer from food insecurity; a weekly distribution of fresh fruit to residents of Gilpin Court; and our Farmers Market. Learn about how St. Stephen's Food Ministry is making a difference in the community here.
VCU Pharmacy Students
Twice a year, pharmacy students from VCU/MCV visit St. Stephen's, host the coffee hour following the 11:15 a.m. Sunday service and provide healthful, delicious foods for that reception. They also provide information, advice, recipes, and offer such services as blood pressure checks and flu shots.