‘Walk with Pastor’ nurtures fitness, fellowship, faith

The Rev. James Wiggins Jr. and his wife, Loretta (third and fourth from left), pose with other "Walk with the Pastor" participants in July on the track at Florida State College of Jacksonville (Fla.). Wiggins, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Jacksonville, says he enjoys the fellowship of the early-morning walks. "It's really a great time to not only get to know your members and leaders better, but it also allows you to meet other citizens from the community," he told Reporter. (Courtesy of James Wiggins Jr.)

The Rev. James Wiggins Jr. and his wife, Loretta (third and fourth from left), pose with other “Walk with the Pastor” participants in July on the track at Florida State College of Jacksonville (Fla.). Wiggins, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Jacksonville, says he enjoys the fellowship of the early-morning walks. “It’s really a great time to not only get to know your members and leaders better, but it also allows you to meet other citizens from the community,” he told Reporter. (Courtesy of James Wiggins Jr.)

By Paula Schlueter Ross (paula.ross@lcms.org)

For two years now, the Rev. James Wiggins Jr., pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Jacksonville, Fla., has invited his congregation to join him on hourlong, weekday walks during the first two weeks of July.

Up to a dozen people at a time — St. Paul members, their friends and family — have joined Wiggins and his wife, Loretta, on the early-morning strolls, which include a Scripture reading and prayer time at the halfway point.

The “Walk with the Pastor” group — which you could say takes literally the word “synod,” or “walking together” — starts out at 6 a.m. on a local college track, stops for prayer at about 6:30, and then continues walking until 7.

For walker Gail Godwin, that prayer time is “the best part” because often, others — not in the St. Paul group but who happen to be exercising on the track — “would join us in the prayer. They would come up and join hands with us — and that was phenomenal.”

Wiggins said he was surprised this year when a regular runner on the track — someone he had not yet met — stopped and asked if he could say a prayer for the pastor and his wife.

“We thought that was really neat,” recalled Wiggins. “He was really admiring what we were doing, and so he wanted to just ask God to bless us.”

Wiggins said he enjoys the social aspect of the walks. “It’s a really great time to not only get to know your members and leaders better, but it also allows you to meet other citizens from the community.

“The physical advantages are certainly great, but I just really enjoy the fellowship,” he told Reporter. “And then, that special moment of prayer and Scripture time that we have together is really neat.”

Godwin, 62, a St. Paul member, says she enjoys “every minute” of the walks. “There’s nothing like starting a walk before it gets light outside, and then the sun rises and you’re still walking … What a nice way to start your day!”

Sharon White, 60, a retired pharmacist who heads the congregation’s new Parish Health Ministry, said she enjoys “the camaraderie” of the walks, which “allowed us time to get to know one another, and walk and talk” — something just about anyone can do with little effort.

St. Paul has sponsored each spring for several years a “Community Day and Health Fair” featuring health screenings and local doctors, dentists and representatives of hospitals and health-related organizations, who answer questions and provide resources.

Now the church’s health ministry plans to take that idea a step further — providing year-round health education, including monthly presentations on timely topics such as cancer, diabetes and hypertension.

“We’re just trying to be proactive” about good health, notes Godwin.

In addition, members of St. Paul’s health ministry are CPR-certified, all have health-care backgrounds and at least one is present at every worship service to handle medical emergencies, should they arise.

Wiggins says his “Walk with the Pastor” outings — which are publicized in the church bulletin and via Facebook, phone and word of mouth (“probably our best advertisement”) — have been so enjoyable he would like to lead them more often and possibly in different locations.

“We really do want to get as many people involved as possible,” he notes, to reap benefits in both the congregation and community.

“It really becomes a mission-and-ministry opportunity, too, because you connect with others and [through that] fellowship with them, you create opportunities to witness.”

Posted August 22, 2016

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