Originally from Gibson, Mississippi, Pastor James H. Buck, Jr. now calls North Philly his home. Five years ago, he moved to Philadelphia with his wife and two children to provide ministry to the Berean Baptist Church congregation. With ministers on both sides of his family and as the only male of five children, Pastor Buck grew up in a very disciplined household. Enlisting in the army after just two years of college did not come as a surprise to anyone who knew him.
“I was in the military for four years, where PT (physical training) is a foundational part of life. The military got me started with cardio and weightlifting on a daily basis. I thought about being a bodybuilder at one point, but—as you can see—I didn’t stick to it,” he jokes. However, after leaving the military, Pastor Buck did try to keep a fitness regimen going.
“I strive to stay in shape mentally and physically. It makes me feel good about myself.”
Pastor Buck also strives to support his church members to do the same thing. He got to know very early on the very serious challenges many in his flock face. “When I first got here, a large part of the congregation suffered from hypertension, diabetes, or some other health issue. It wasn’t hard to see the patterns. After a church reception or event where we served food, I would need to visit members at the hospital because they had eaten something they were not supposed to.”
So then we started change our feast-day menus to include good-for-you foods like: baked chicken, steamed carrots, nice salads, and whipped potatoes where chicken broth takes the place of butter—all this with the occasional slice of home-baked cake that Pastor Buck says is irresistible. (Remember, treats are fine on occasion and in small servings. Just add another 30 minutes—only ten minutes at a time—to your day’s exercise.)
Pastor Buck takes looking after his congregation to heart, literally, and understands the importance of leading by example.
“As the saying goes, a congregation takes on the identity of its pastor. Preaching takes a lot of energy out of you so, pastors need to take their health seriously. I told everyone I am looking to lose 21 lbs by the end of the summer. I stopped eating fried foods. Now, I eat a lot more baked and grilled food. I love grilled food now.”
In fact, for Pastor Buck, faith and fitness go hand-in-hand.
“There is something spiritual about health. Your body is your temple.”
Because he knows a healthy lifestyle has to be about a balance of both diet and exercise, Pastor Buck, with the help of church members, started to hold zumba class, opening the weekly class to everyone in the neighborhood. They welcomed all ages, so that parents could come with their children, and families could workout and have fun together.
“Doing the zumba class as a community helped us challenge and encourage each other, and be an inspiration to one another. And everyone wanted us to continue these types of classes.”
Since then, Berean has had several more group fitness events that’s open to all, no matter your current physical shape. Pastor Buck helps everyone find common ground in the ways to think about getting healthier.
“I think being physically fit is important especially as we progress in age. If we change some of the things that we do, if we exercise, we can control things like diabetes–as one member of my congregation has done.”
Pastor Buck believes that “every congregation should emphasize the importance of healthy eating, healthy exercise” so much so that he would be up for a physical activity or biggest-loser-like challenge with other churches. “If you don’t have a Zumba class, get one! And find other ways to improve the lives of the congregation not only spiritually, but mentally and physically as well.” Amen to that.