Hoping to inspire healthy living, pastors take on diet challenge

Westerly — Two preachers, an Episcopalian and a Baptist, are at the forefront of an unconventional ministry.

The Rev. Cal Lord of Central Baptist Church and the Rev. Sunil Chandy of Christ Episcopal Church, who regularly preach from their respective pulpits just a few doors apart on Elm Street, started a friendly weight-loss competition a few weeks ago that has caught the attention of their parishioners, and townspeople, too.

It started in late December, when Pastor Lord stopped in to see his friend Pastor Chandy and ask for his support in Lord's effort to lose weight and get better control of his diabetes. Chandy, who has high blood pressure and, like Lord, was attending a weekly Weight Watchers meeting at Central Baptist Church, liked the idea of the two spurring each other on to achieve better health.

Their Weight Watchers leader, Traci Boiselle, suggested that rather than count lost pounds they should decide the top finisher based on highest percentage of weight lost, a more equitable formula. They started Dec. 31 and will conclude their competition on April 15, the eve of Easter Sunday.

So far, the two have each lost about 10 pounds, and Lord has a slight edge on Chandy. Come Easter Sunday, the victor will get a new suit from a local men's shop, compliments of the other pastor.

But it's really not about the prize, both men said. Their goal is to improve their own health and set an example by doing so.

The pair attend a Saturday morning Weight Watchers meeting to be motivated by other members of the class, and to help encourage others, too. And they get together weekly to pray, sometimes in unconventional places, like last week's meeting at the High Street juice bar Maize N Manna.

"He got me some energy drink," said Lord, and added, "We can pray anywhere, and we pray for one another."

Lord, 58, first joined Weight Watchers in 1994 and lost 60 pounds, becoming a life member. He's gained some of that weight back and now has a goal of losing 35 to 45 pounds.

"We lift each other and pray together," said Chandy, explaining the two pastors pray extemporaneously.

"We thank the Lord and ask him to help us, to help each other, as we walk this journey," he said.

Chandy, who will turn 50 in March, joined Weight Watchers about a year ago and acknowledges he didn't initially take the program as seriously as he could have.

"I was going to the meetings, but I was flirting with it," he said. "I'd lose weight one week, and gain weight the next week. I was living on balance, saying I'd have to lose that weight before I went back to another meeting."

The priests want to set an example for others, especially men. Both congregations are aware of the weight-loss battle and rooting for their respective pastors. And, after Easter, the two men hope to broaden their efforts by forming Team Cal and Team Sunil, and engaging others in healthful eating and exercise behavior.

"We are both very competitive and this gives us something to work for," Chandy said. "We are leaders in our community and we are modeling a healthy lifestyle."

"If you're the priest at Christ Church and go to Burger King, everyone knows," he added.

"Weight Watchers is not really a diet, it's an approach to healthy eating and lifestyle," Lord said. "It teaches you how to eat anything and make good choices."

"I consider it a ministry," he said. "We talk about the mind, spirit and body, and scripture says your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, so you gotta take care of your body."

"Their goal overall is to set an example of living a healthier lifestyle," said Boiselle, their Weight Watchers leader. And, she said, they are proving that men can be successful on the program.

"There's a stigma that Weight Watchers is for women. But men do the program, and they're successful, and they are leaders," she said.

Lord wants to encourage Chandy, his own parishioners, and others in the community.

"We talk about it from the pulpit, and in conversations," he said. "Our congregations know we're doing this ... our hope is to engage others."

"There has been a friendship between our churches for many, many years," Chandy said. "And Cal and I, we have a real good chemistry between us — we share humor, understanding and respect."

Chandy said he knows some of his parishioners have worried about him, and one, who succeeded on Weight Watchers, inspired him.

"I know if I want to be a healthy priest and do what I love doing, serving my church and community, I have to be healthy," he said.

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