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Congregational exercise program: church walkers.

Choose one main focus for your parish nurse ministry. That was the advice I received during my parish nurse course under the direction of Mary Auterman held at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. My choice was "to be the healthiest congregation in town!"

While on orientation with the Director of Sanford Parish Nurse Institute, Joyce Kaatz, I was toured through the church where she is also parish nurse. Different colored laminated footprints were on the walls. She explained, " If you followed the blue footprint completely around, it would be 1/2 mile, green footprint may do stairs so a bit more of a challenge, purple footprint would be a mile."

My imagination was sparked! Walking is an activity most people can do, and has so many benefits for body, mind and spirit. Looking from my parish nurse office, I saw a new gymnasium. What if we measured it to find how many times around would make a mile? It would be warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and dry when it was raining.

Working with the holistic health cabinet, made up of our pastor of pastoral care, an enthusiastic mom and grandmother, physician assistant, a nurse who went on to get her law degree, a nurse who had been head nurse of ER, a retired High school teacher and coach who also is an active triathlon participate and promoter, and a director of an Oncology clinic, and the church's recreational ministry coordinator, a new recreational activity committee was formed. A retired college coach measured a walking path throughout the entire main level of the church including the sanctuary. Five laps equaled 1 mile. A student that was working for her degree in graphic design then made a map of the path, and designed the church walker logo, along with the church staff communications coordinator. We had a group fitness instructor and an exercise physiologist who is a college assistant professor of exercise science who gave input on the walking program and manual. A member of a health cabinet from West Nidaros Lutheran church and I shared our walking programs with each other.

The main goal for our first Church Walkers event was to encourage those that didn't already have a regular exercise program to begin walking at the church or wherever they chose. T-shirts with the Church Walkers logo were given to participants who walked a minimum of 1 hour a week in at least 3-4 sessions for the 10 weeks. One point for every 15 minutes of continuous walking with a maximum of 1 hour credit daily per individual was logged in the Church Walkers Log book for teams or individuals. A retired office manager maintained the log book weekly. Teams were from choir, chair exercise, families, and staff. The top three teams and individuals were recognized in our monthly church paper.


Weekly devotionals with Bible readings were made available, as we wanted to promote spiritual as well as physical wellness. Walkers told me walking through the sanctuary was very calming and a good time to pray or focus on Jesus.

When Gayle Mason gave parish nurses the opportunity to be part of a study to see how walking programs helped parishioners' health, we did a four-week program recording beginning and ending B/P and weights. Nearly 33% of the participants lowered their B/P or lost weight. We found those people that had an accountability partner were more likely to make their goals.

I was fortunate to work together with a great group of people of many different talents that were excited about the church walkers program. Seeing staff and parishioners walking at church "taking care of their temples" encourages me that we are working toward being "the healthiest congregation in town!"

For more information, contact Paula Bartels at or call (605) 339-1983.


By Paula Bartels, Parish Nurse

First Lutheran Church

Sioux Falls, South Dakota
COPYRIGHT 2009 International Parish Nurse Resource Center
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Author:Bartels, Paula
Publication:Parish Nurse Perspectives
Geographic Code:1U4SD
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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