When it comes to delivering health information, is your pastor more effective than a medical expert? Studies involving Black churches have shown that sometimes, the answer is yes.
Black churches play an important role in preventing cancer and other diseases that affect many African-Americans. In one study, half of the churches received a bulletin containing spiritual messages about health and health messages from the church pastor. The other churches received a bulletin addressing the same issues, but with messages from health experts. Those who received the spiritual bulletin trusted its health messages more than those who received the experts’’ bulletin.
Church-based health programs and health ministries may help reduce the burden of cancer and other diseases among African Americans. In Marion County alone, 268 African Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year. But with an estimated 139 churches in Indianapolis, there are plenty of opportunities for trusted faith leaders to become messengers of health.
Ann Rustin is the parish nurse at Bethany Rembrandt Church of God in Indianapolis. A breast cancer survivor, she talks about the importance of mammograms to church members.
“When I first introduced the conversation on breast cancer at the church, the members weren’t very receptive,” she said. But the church pastor and his wife were supportive and encouraged her.
“Witnessing in the church and sharing your experiences can always be a form of outreach to the whole person,” said Rustin, 79. “I do know that spreading the word on breast cancer can really help.”
Already, programs like “Body and Soul” encourage churchgoers to eat healthier food. “The Witness Project” features cancer survivors who speak to church groups about the importance of screening for cervical cancer and breast cancer. And in some churches, women are given necklaces with wooden beads representing the kinds of breast tumors that can be found through screening.
In April, the American Cancer Society awarded $1.8 million to researchers at the University of Maryland to develop a new program to use church settings to encourage men to get screened for prostate cancer.
The benefits of such programs can be great. Regular exercise and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help to lower the risk of cancer. Getting regular cancer screenings like mammograms, PAP tests and colonoscopies can help detect cancer at an earlier stage when it can be treated more effectively.
Linda Ellis, Indianapolis correspondent for the Ozioma News Service, contributed to this story. Ozioma is a national cancer news service based in Missouri. It is funded by the National Cancer Institute and provides minority media outlets with information about cancer risks, treatment and prevention with a focus on taking action to improve health in African-American communities.