Healthy Churches 2020 National Conference Set To Kick-Off In The Lowcountry

By Tolbert Smalls, Jr.

For the first time since its inception, The Healthy Churches 2020 National Conference is coming to the Palmetto state. Hilton Head will be the site of the 2017 conference that takes place November 14-17.  Hosted by The Balm in Gilead, Inc., the fourth annual multi-platform initiative will bring faith and public health together to help eliminate health disparities affecting African-Americans.

The Chronicle spoke with Balm In Gilead CEO & Founder Pernessa Seele about the event. Born and raised in nearby Lincolnville, Seele was excited to have this year’s conference in the Lowcountry.  “Knowing the challenges that we face in South Carolina, I wanted to bring attention to health disparities outside of big cities. Some of the smaller towns such as Yemassee, South Carolina don’t have access to resources or information compared to Chicago or Atlanta. I’m on a mission to involve rural, southern communities,” she said.

The Healthy Churches 2020 National Conference is a 3½-day, nationally recognized symposium to find answers to today’s complex health issues in our inner cities and rural areas; bringing together faith leaders, leading medical experts, health directors, community health workers, members of congregational health ministries and public health professionals to increase the skills and knowledge of those responsible for leading congregational and community health ministries.

The theme for this year’s gathering is “Faith and Public Health: Leading Together to Find Solutions!”. The conference focuses on how faith leaders and public health professionals can work together to provide life-saving information and support to African Americans in the arenas of disease state awareness, disease management and prevention, which includes: Alzheimer’s, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV, clinical trial engagement and more.

“The conference is designed for local churches that understand that we need to get more serious about the health for the people we serve,” Seele explained.  “I’ve been in church when someone died sitting in the pew. If someone had basic CPR skills which is something that we provide training for, that person may still be alive today. We also provide training for grant writing and provide counsel for disease prevention and management. We are looking to provide information and resources to those persons that are engaged with their congregation and community to help make a difference,” she said.

In speaking with Seele, you could hear her passion for healthcare as she reflected on her life’s journey. Growing up in Lincolnville during segregation, school, church and family operated as one in the community. She attended Lincolnville Elementary and Bonds Wilson before Graduating at R.B. Stall High School. “We always had a support system everywhere we went. If someone was sick or died, you knew the Pastor was on the way. It’s a little bit different now. Although the responses of churches are different today, it is still the most influential institution in our communities and I’m committed to helping churches get stronger to deal with the magnitude of problems we have today,” said Seele.

During the interview, Seele revealed her struggles with obesity, one of the most alarming health disparities in the state. South Carolina had the 12th highest adult obesity rate in the country at 32.3 percent in 2016 according to The State of Obesity report. “I’ve struggled with my weight for all my life. I was porky pig, fatso, I was just an obese kid. Over the years I have learned how to eat better and exercise, but I still struggle because of our culture and the emotions that are involved. I lost my mother to diabetes and my father to lung problems, which is the root of my passion for healthcare and us taking better care of ourselves,” she said.

Seele continued, “Our organization tries to answer questions that are critical to the health disparities in our communities. How do we learn to prepare food better? How do we take care of our bodies? How do we prevent and manage our diseases? I believe we have a great responsibility to tell the truth and teach our young people how make better decisions. We don’t have to pass ignorance on to another generation.”

Pernessa Seele

For more information about The Healthy Churches 2020 National Conference and The Balm in Gilead, visit

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