Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook Says Ministers Must Focus on Physical, Spiritual Health

Obama Nominee, Best-Selling Author to Join Surgeon General at Divinity Convocation

Churches and clergy must be as concerned about their members’ physical and mental health as they are about their spiritual well-being, said the Rev. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, world-renowned minister, presidential nominee and best selling author.


“We are mind, body and spirit, and unless all three are flowing together, we are out of balance,” Johnson Cook said during a recent news conference. “We need a holy alignment.”


Johnson Cook will address the relationship between spiritual and physical health, which she calls a “serious problem,” during a banquet speech, Thursday, Nov. 4, at the 94th annual convocation of the Howard University School of Divinity.


President Barack Obama has nominated her for an ambassador’s post. Johnson Cook, whom the New York Times described as “Billy Graham and Oprah rolled into one, is the author of “Too Blessed to Be Stressed: Words of Wisdom on the Move” and Sister to Sister, Volume I: Devotions for and from African American Women and “Becoming a Woman of Destiny: Turning Life’s Trials into Triumphs,” which was released in September. 


She will be joining a list of convocation speakers that include U.S. Surgeon General Regina A. Benjamin. Known as “America’s Doctor, Benjamin 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.”


Alice Ogden Bellis, Ph.D., chair of the convocation and professor of Old Testament Language and Literature, pointed to a number of reasons for focusing the conference on health.


“The African-American community definitely is facing some serious health challenges,” Bellis said. “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.


Johnson Cook said the issue of spiritual and physical well-beingis so important that began an initiative in her own church called “Fine, Fit and Fabulous” to encourage her congregation to become health conscious.


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 that works “to improve health care, bring about environmental change, provide health education and encourage changes in legislation and policy.”


Also addressing the issue during the convocation will be the Rev. Howard John Wesley, the senior pastor of the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va.  He will be the keynote speaker at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4


Bellis praised Wesley for his efforts on health care.


“His church has done a lot in the area of health ministry,” she said.


Gospel singer Byron Cage, a Grammy Award nominee who has won several Stellar Awards, will perform at the convocation dinner on Nov. 4.


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 for ministers as it is for church members because of their job requirements.


 “Ministers have a high rate of suicide, divorce, drug abuse and alcoholism precisely because it’s a high stressed job,” she said.