Canterbury churches have joined schools and sports clubs as another environment where messages around wellbeing can change the future for their followers.

Promoting access to community gardens, fizzy-free events and a smoke-free environment has become the norm for a number of congregations, according to Sport Canterbury Chief Executive Julyan Falloon.

These concepts have appealed to older church members based on the way they have been presented by young people within the parish, Falloon adds.

Pastor Jesel Royokada agrees. “When our young people started presenting to our congregation on health topics, our older people sat back and said, ‘Hey, they have something to say. They are confident and they can lead our church.’”

Sport Canterbury’s Healthy Families Christchurch team reached out to the Fijian pastor to support his advocacy for health and wellbeing initiatives within the Christchurch Fijian Seventh Day Adventist Church – actively encouraging him to set a parish-wide goal.

“Healthy Families Christchurch opened my eyes to what is here in New Zealand. There are so many things available to us and specifically to Pasifika people.”

In 2017, Jesel encouraged members of his 70-strong congregation, along with neighbouring churches, to take part in the annual Star City2Surf fun run – many participating in this type of event for the very first time.

“In our culture, once the leaders do it, people want to do it as well. I just do things and people follow. People grab those values once they see you practising it in your own life, rather than just telling them.”

Falloon salutes the example Jesel has set – and recognises the contribution from his own Healthy Families Christchurch team.

Jesel emphasises: “We have done quite a few little things now, with big results. It took someone outside our church to come in and remind us of the things we already believed in. This (making the healthy, sustainable changes) was all started by their workforce (Sport Canterbury and Healthy Families Christchurch). I salute them.”

Last year, every Sunday, Jesel led his congregation in an early morning prayer walk in Hagley Park.

This year, his group commonly comes across other church groups that have formed a similar Sunday morning habit – proving the power of leading by example.

“I like to be healthy, so I hope my church members catch it and apply it in their lives as well.”

-Sara Web, Sport Canterbury and Healthy Families Christchurch.