By Jannette J. Witmyer, Special to the AFRO

Pastors from around the country will gather, Nov. 19-22, in Charlotte, N.C. for the much anticipated Healthy Churches 2020 National Conference, the sixth of its kind offered by The Balm in Gilead. Founder and CEO Dr. Pernessa C. Seele is proud of the resources the conference provides African-American faith communities and people of African descent. She firmly believes every church serving Black people should have a health ministry.

Disturbed by the absence of support from churches as HIV and AIDS devastated their communities, Seele had a self-described “little idea” and in 1989 organized the very first Harlem Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, which sought to mobilize African-American faith communities of Harlem to assist and provide resources to congregants.

“Well, 31 years later, that little idea is an international organization known as The Balm In Gilead, and we mobilize and build the capacity of African-American churches to address all health disparities, including HIV and AIDS,” she explains. “For Healthy Churches 2020, now in its sixth year, it is our time of bringing public health and faith communities together to learn together, look at solutions, and get resources to tackle health disparities in the Black community, because our church is still the most influential institution in our communities.”

The four-day conference will be packed with panels, workshops and plenaries led by some of the country’s most highly respected medical experts and faith leaders and will cover myriad topics. The Rev. Dr. Heber M. Brown III, senior pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, founder of the Black Church Food Security Network will talk about the church’s role in food security and will be joined by Dr. Derek S. Hicks, associate professor of religion and culture, Wake Forest University School of Divinity, who will talk about religion, food, and black culture. 

The Rev. Debra Hickman, assistant to the pastor at City Temple of Baltimore (Baptist) and co-founder of Sisters Together And Reaching, a faith-based, non-profit, community organization that provides support, services and prevention education for HIV and AIDS will talk about how churches can address those issues.

Established three years ago, the conference’s Best Practice Award encourages churches to become fully-engaged centers for health promotion in the community and recognizes some of the great work being done by faith communities around this country. Included among this year’s nine honorees will be Turner Memorial AME Church, in Hyattsville, Md. 

Honored to have the church’s work recognized, Turner’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. D. K. Kearney said, “God has called Turner to become very intentional about making health and wellness a priority in the life of our ministry. We know that the health disparities that impact African Americans are in part due to inadequate access to important information and resources. God has allowed us to partner with various agencies and healthcare professionals, some of whom are members of the congregation. We are grateful God is using Turner to provide life-saving information, health screenings and even yoga classes to members of the church and the community.

Bolstered by sessions of praise and worship, the conference will also feature gospel artist Israel Houghton and Sunday Best winner Melvin Crispell III.

“This is a full conference for the body of Christ, and we are tackling mind, body and spirit because we have to get the laser focused on the health of our people,” proclaims Dr. Seele.

“What is most important about this conference is for people to understand that there is a conference like this, where the leadership of our churches, bishops, presiding elders, pastors, apostles, across the board, AMEs, AME Zions, CMEs, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostal, Apostolic, folks who are serving the Black church, are coming together, along with some of the most renowned public health leaders, coming together to say let’s have dialogue, give us resources that we can take back to our communities to help the people in our pews and in our community.”

Registration for the Healthy Churches 2020 conference is open and full conference registration includes attendance to all programmatic and entertainment activities, Nov. 19-22. To register, visit the 6th Annual Healthy Churches 2020 National Conference’s registration page at For additional information, call 888-225-6243 or email