Today’s churches and clergy must be as concerned about their members’ physical and mental health as they are about their spiritual well-being, said world-renowned minister, presidential nominee and best-selling author the Rev. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook during a telephone press conference hosted by Howard University.

Johnson Cook, the woman the New York Times described as “Billy Graham and Oprah rolled into one,” will discuss the relationship between spiritual and physical health, during her Nov. 4 banquet speech at the 94th Annual Convocation at Howard University School of Divinity.

Nominated by President Barack Obama for an ambassador’s post, Johnson Cook will be joining a distinguished list of speakers/performers during the convocation, including U.S. Surgeon General Regina A. Benjamin; the Rev. Howard John Wesley, senior pastor of the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., and gospel star Byron Cage.

Benjamin, “America’s Doctor” and the nation’s 18th surgeon general, will give the opening speech at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3, for the convocation, whose theme this year is “Faith and (W)Holistic Health: At the Crossroads.”

Johnson Cook said spiritual and physical well-being are interwoven. “We are mind, body and spirit, and unless all three are flowing together, we are out of balance,” she said. “We need a holy alignment, and I think that’s what this convocation is calling us to, to be attentive about our alignment.

“I believe there is nowhere better than Howard Divinity School to call it all together, so that we can really take care of this serious problem.”

The issue is so important that Johnson Cook, who has spent more than 30 years in ministry amassing a number of “firsts” and developing innovative ministries, began an initiative at Believers Christian Fellowship called “Fine, Fit and Fabulous” to encourage her congregation to become health conscious, she said.

During services at the church from which she recently retired as pastor, she said, she and her congregation would talk about healthy choices they made as part of their efforts to be more fit. During the initiative, her congregation lost more than 1,000 pounds together.

She said the program led to the “Bronx Health REACH,” a coalition of organizations in the Bronx, N.Y., that works “to improve health care, bring about environmental change, provide health education and encourage changes in legislation and policy.”

Howard University School of Divinity professor Alice Ogden Bellis, Ph.D., chair of the convocation, pointed to a number of reasons for focusing the convocation on health. “The African-American community definitely is facing some serious health challenges,” Bellis said during the press conference call. “We believe that Black churches have a real opportunity to help this community deal with some of the problems that we’re facing.”

Bellis noted obesity as a major issue. Eighty percent of African Americans over the age of 40 are “either obese or overweight, and this is leading to an epidemic in Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, reduced life span and of course reduced quality of life,” she said.

Bellis says the convocation will also focus on how churches can help tackle the issue of HIV/AIDS during a workshop from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday. The workshop will be led by Metropolitan Interdenominational Church Technical Assistance Network, an organization based in Nashville, Tenn., that trains local congregations on how to deal with HIV/AIDS.

Bellis said the issue of health is as important if not more so for ministers than for church members because of their jobs’ requirements. “Ministers have a high rate of suicide, divorce, drug abuse and alcoholism precisely because it’s a high stressed job,” she said.

Macy L. Freeman

Howard University News Service