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Local parish walks for wellness and spiritual growth

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In an effort to increase physical activity, spiritual growth and cultural awareness a group of inspirational individuals at the Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fort Atkinson took a virtual walk to Bethlehem. Three times per week, the group would meet at the Glacial River Bike Trail at 6:00 a.m. for a 10 minute devotion by Pastors Ethan Steinbrenner and Steven Wilkens followed by a group walk, run or jog for one hour.

Members of Bethany Evangelical Lutheran participating in one of their many early morning devotionals and walks.“It didn’t matter if you couldn’t physically walk or partake in the early morning, the walk to Bethlehem was accommodating for everyone,” said Bob Cloute, church member. Any form of exercise done for 20 minutes, counted as one mile. This included chair aerobics, strength training, swimming, basketball, water aerobics or whatever each person was comfortable participating in.

The shortest path from Fort Atkinson to Bethlehem is approximately 6,400 miles so the congregation created a large map of the route, including passage through Wittenberg, Germany because of the church’s Lutheran heritage. At the end of each week, participants tallied their mileage and advanced the peg on the map to show where the group currently was in the world. In just three months, the group walked well beyond Bethlehem, completing a total of 7,600 miles.

“The walk to Bethlehem was such a great experience. I just cannot believe how fast the program grew. At the beginning there were about 10 people who participated, but by the end there were over 200, including school-aged children and those residing in group homes, assistive living and nursing homes,” remarked Betty Cloute.

When the group reached their destination, Bethlehem, they celebrated with a “Food of Bethlehem” dinner. All the food prepared was exactly what you would find in Bethlehem, including roast chicken, fish, green salad, kefir, sabbath bread, dates, baklava and many almond-based treats served with water and non-alcoholic wine, which is common in Bethlehem.

Bethany launched a second walk, this time 8,600 miles, as they Walk[ed] to Emmaus following Saint Paul’s four missionary journeys. During the challenge, participants earned miles through physical activity and spiritual endeavors like reading a chapter in the Bible, having family devotions and through works of service like assisting a neighbor, visiting a shut-in or volunteering. To celebrate reaching landmarks, the church held Oasis Nights celebrating the cultures of the places Paul, and the congregation, visited including Asia, Italy and Greece.

“The programs provide a wonderful experience for the church and we cannot wait to walk to our next destination,” said Pastor Wilkens. “It is such a great feeling to know how much our church enjoyed walking to these places, and hopefully we can expand the number of people joining us to help improve the health and well-being of our community.”

Church member Betty Cloute is also a 32 year veteran employee of Fort HealthCare where she helped found the Faith Nurse program. The program started in 2008 and works to assist congregations in improving the health and spiritual well-being of its members and provide options for reaching out in the community. Fort HealthCare provides specific resources, education and support to churches and nurses who are participating in the Faith Nurse program.

Even though the concept is rooted in the church, it is non-denominational and Fort HealthCare’s goal is to reach as many people as possible in our community. The role of a faith community nurse is to improve awareness of available services, increase utilization of existing healthcare delivery systems and promote health and healing by empowering individuals to incorporate key elements from their belief systems into their healthcare plan.

For more information about coordinating wellness events in your parish, contact Betty Cloute at (920) 568-5285 or Lee Clay at (920) 568-6512. More information on the Faith Nurse program is available at