KOH2RVA: Day 94

running_legsWhat would it take to make Richmond the healthiest city in America?

A group of clergy and physicians got together yesterday to talk about that very thing at the Richmond Academy of Medicine. This was the second conversation in an ongoing dialogue with Dr. Terry Whipple, founder of the “Physician Within” program at First Baptist Church. Terry’s dream was to go on a medical mission trip that never left the city of Richmond—an educational mission—that would help people understand their bodies and how they work and how to keep them healthy. We talked yesterday about how that mission could expand to include more physicians and more congregations and began to get excited about the possibility that Richmond really could become the healthiest city in America.

“We’re already number 12,” I said.


“According to Forbes magazine, Richmond is the 12th healthiest city in America,” I repeated. “I found it online.”

It’s true. And although Forbes doesn’t explain why Richmond is Number 12, it does give some information about our nearest rival, Virginia Beach, which came in at Number 9:

The lucky denizens of Virginia Beach (which includes Norfolk and Newport News) are rich in parks, tennis courts, playgrounds, ball diamonds, and golf courses, boosting the activity level of this region above much of the South. A relatively affluent area, Virgina Beach benefits from excellent access to medical care, with a whopping 89 percent of residents having health insurance. The result? Lower than average rates of angina and heart disease, despite the fact that 20 percent of area residents smoke.

One of the clergy at yesterday’s meeting was Joel Morgan, hip young pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church at the corner of Monument and Malvern and a former personal trainer. He asked, “How many of you have a regular program of diet and exercise?” Several of us raised our hands, but even as he asked the question we understood: Richmond won’t become the healthiest city in America simply by keeping people out of the emergency room. We’re going to have to push back from the dinner table more often, get up off our couches and move.

That wasn’t so hard for me to imagine.

I already see people walking and jogging on Monument Avenue, riding mountain bikes on the Buttermilk Trail, and playing tennis in Byrd Park. What if the whole city began to get out more, exercise more? What if they started paying attention to the calorie counts now posted in so many fast food restaurants and began to choose the 400-calorie burger over the 800-calorie one? It may not be the most urgent item on our agenda as we work to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, but there is something heavenly about the idea of people being healthy and active and able to enjoy the life God gave them.

In January, I’m going to announce the formation of this year’s Monument Avenue 10K Training Team at First Baptist Church. Maybe 2013 will be the year you decide to run, walk, or crawl 6.2 miles on Monument Avenue as one of your New Year’s resolutions.

Maybe this will be the year we move from number 12 to number 11.

KOH2RVA: Day 79

Last week I had lunch at the Richmond Academy of Medicine.

It’s not the kind of place that usually comes to mind when you think of lunch, but it turned out to be perfect for what was on the agenda—making Richmond the healthiest city in America.

Dr. Terry Whipple, who founded the Physician Within program at First Baptist Church, has bigger plans. He wants to see the program expand to other congregations in the city, to other neighborhoods, until everybody in Metropolitan Richmond “understands common health issues and adjusts their lifestyles for longer, safer, healthier existence.” He asked me to reach out to some of my fellow clergy and invite them to lunch, so he could tell them about the program first hand and invite them to participate.

If you’re not familiar with the Physician Within, take a moment to skim the video above, from a session called “Chest Pain: Is It My Heart?” You’ll see that it’s not a complicated concept: a respected cardiologist talking to lay people about heart health and how they can stay out of the emergency room. You can also see that a good many people were interested enough to come out on a Tuesday night and hear what he had to say. It didn’t hurt that the program was—and remains—absolutely free.

My colleagues were interested. They could see how welcome such a program would be in their own churches. But when Richard Szucs, president of the Academy and member of First Baptist Church, began to talk about the 1,700 medical professionals who are members of the Academy and how they might participate, we all began to see the potential. Hundreds of congregations, hundreds of medical professionals, coming together to make Richmond “the healthiest city in America.”

When Terry Whipple first said it I thought he was just being grandiose, but now I don’t think he was. I think he simply has Kingdom-sized dreams, and he’s waiting for the rest of us to catch up.  We took a small step forward last week.  Maybe, by the time this year-long, every-member mission trip is over, we will have taken giant strides toward that ambitious goal.


Please see my posts about churches working with hospitals to keep people healthy from Day 45 and Day 46.  It feels like momentum is building.