Church health-bent on physical, fiscal and spiritual well-being

By Electa Draper |The Denver Post

Shorter Community African Methodist Episcopal Church is ready for its checkup.

The Rev. Timothy E. Tyler’s finger is on the pulse of this congregation of roughly 1,200, and he has a vision of vitality that includes fiscal, physical and spiritual health.

For starters, the congregation has been celebrating “Health Empowerment Week,” which culminates today with a “Healthy Living Festival” and dedication of a community garden.

The events wrap up Sunday with a worship celebration that includes grocery giveaways and grants for medical expenses.

Earlier this week, the church — a big brick building at Martin Luther King Jr. and Colorado boulevards — hosted “Fitness Night,” when all of the church, even the sanctuary, was temporarily dedicated as exercise space.

Education programs have included sessions on the recent health care reform legislation and on what Tyler calls the “Big 5” killers in the community: diabetes, cancer, AIDS, heart disease and stroke.

“We’re dying off too young, especially in the African-American community,” Tyler said. “We don’t like to talk about the C-word (cancer) and other health problems. African-American men are not comfortable going to the doctor. And it’s killing us.”

Even Bible study Wednesday night was devoted to what Scripture has to say about healthy living.

“The church needs to play a bigger role. You can’t just tell everybody to be healthier and then invite everybody over for fried chicken in the church hall,” Tyler said.

He said he wants everyone to be around long enough to enjoy what they’re doing next. It will be nothing short of a miracle if they can pull it off, said Tyler, who has been pastor here since November 2008.

“We’re paying off our mortgage balance, $469,000, on June 27,” Tyler said. “We will be debt-free. We’ve decided we need to own our church and channel the money we send to banks elsewhere in the community.”

When he suggested raising money to retire the mortgage to his congregants, Tyler said, “they got excited about it, and so I’ve stayed excited about it.”

At the “Shorter Senior Health Empowerment Luncheon” on Wednesday, the church hall was buzzing with well over 100 people, who showed up to eat healthily prepared chicken, carrots and salad.

“He’s so wonderful,” Brenda Hatchett said of Tyler. “The energy really just pours out of him.”

A member of Shorter for 35 years, Hatchett knows how much Tyler has shaken up the church.

Her friend Tonya Banks, a relatively new member, agreed that the pastor is full of fire and inspiration.

Donna Dixon, president of the Colorado Sickle Cell Association, was at the luncheon checking out Shorter’s health fair.

She’s not a church member, she said, but she knows the value of health education.

“I’m here to support this kind of effort in our community,” Dixon said.

Sickle cell anemia, a genetically transmitted disease, incurable yet treatable, occurs in about one in 12 African-Americans in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health.

Shorter members take pride in how their church can serve as an example to the greater community, Hatchett said.

“Rev. Tyler is marvelous. He’s got the kind of vision we’ve never seen at Shorter before,” said 70-year-old Cleola Spikes.

Spikes coordinates the welcome visits to new members, and she estimates the church has grown by at least 200 during Tyler’s brief tenure.

And the church, while devoting many resources to killing off its mortgage, will still manage on Sunday to provide the community with 25 grants of $200 each for doctor-visit co-pays and prescription drugs; two medical grants of $500 each; a $1,000 grant for a healthy-living project; and 100 bags of groceries valued at $30 each but available for only $5.

The church is also repeating last year’s popular “Cutting Through the Crisis” barbershop. Ten local barbers will give free haircuts from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today. The church awards each barber $300 for the work.

“People trust their church. They trust their pastor,” Tyler said. “So we need to do whatever we can to make them healthy physically and spiritually.”

Electa Draper: 303-954-1276 or edraper@denverpost.com

Source: The Denver Post

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