For most Pasifika, church is our spiritual haven, where we worship and congregate with our extended whānau. It’s a place where we connect, korero, and build long-lasting relationships. But can it also be a place for exercise and movement? The Church Plant has definitely proven it can be.
In April 2022, Healthy Families South Auckland (HFSA) and Auckland Council launched the Church Plant – Exercise Containers. The Church Plant was implemented in Tokaima’ananga Ōtara Tongan Methodist Parish Church and EFKS Samoa East Tamaki.
It aims to support Pacific trainers and churches in South Auckland to develop effective opportunities to explore how they can design and use churches as sites for play, and recreation.
But movement in Churches is not a new phenomenon so what makes the Church Plant different?
The Church Plant is a pathway for Pacific youth to develop solutions to the challenges they are facing in their communities. Our youth trainers from both congregations will be able to gain transferable skills such as team work, adaptability, communication, and critical thinking which can be applied to all areas of their lives as well as strengthen their leadership abilities.
It is a step towards connecting local government with local Pasifika communities to build on innovative, inclusive, and sustainable alternatives for movement. It’s an investment into unlocking the pathway for more Pasifika communities to use a place of worship to build capability and develop solutions to problems affecting the health and wellbeing in their communities.
The exercise containers provided the youth trainers with exercise equipment that would enable them to motivate congregation members to stay physically active. Trainers are responsible for guiding participants through training sessions as well as encouraging them to join in physical activities.
Together we co-designed a programme that offers participants:
- Easy exercise tips to follow
- A balanced routine that rotates between moderate and intense physical activity
- Correct techniques for equipment use
- A safe and empowering environment for learning, physical activity, and participation
- Feedback sessions with trainers to refine the programme according to participant needs
By utilising the Church as a space for movement, we are able to influence the mindset of congregation members to seek the Church for more than just spiritual fulfillment. Although the Church Plant is still in its infancy, participation is steadily increasing, indicating a shift in the mindset of members.
Mele Mounga Finau is a Zumba instructor in the Tokaima’ananga church. Mele, 30, from Ōtara, helps her congregation members navigate their fitness journey by providing training, and advice on fitness and wellbeing. As a result of this, Mele has seen a confidence boost in herself which has also influenced the attitude, and behaviours of the congregation towards physical activity and exercise.
“It’s directed at our church, elderly, parents, and that’s what motivates me to turn up. Just knowing that I’m doing something good for the church and the community.”
“We’ve had one elderly man come through and it’s good to see him doing something that makes him healthy. It’s also made me more confident as a trainer. When we first started people couldn’t hear me call out the exercises but now I feel more confident to stand up in front of people,” says Mele.
Tokaima’ananga Ōtara Tongan Methodist Parish Church is home to families who attend the church to fulfill their spiritual needs and nourish their sense of community. There are predominantly elderly parishioners, however there is an increasing proportion of youth who regularly attend. It offers a chance to amplify the voice of youth through training, while also including its aging members.
“The Church Plant is about utilising the church as a place of social cohesion and gives participants the confidence to actively move and thrive in an environment that is safe, non-judgemental, and empowering for everyone, from the youth to the elders of the congregation,” says Pita Alatini, Lead Systems Innovator.
“We also want our youth trainers to develop leadership skills that can help them prosper and better serve their communities in the long run.”
“It is good to see a programme that can include us old people. Most of the time I’m sitting on the chair and moving my hands up and down, then I walk around to cheer the participants and trainers on” says one church elder.
The Church Plant will continue to provide a platform for congregations to see exercise as a beneficial tool to combat long term health conditions as well as an opportunity for them to feel uplifted in more ways than one in their church environment.
Our youth trainers are reflecting and refining their exercise programmes to adapt to the changing needs of participating members including planning for new and exciting programs to entice more members to attend especially among the elders as well as building on their knowledge of food systems to better serve their Church, and community.