Over 160 people from 30 annual conferences, including six from NCC, attended a recent US Health Forum, sponsored by two UMC general agencies and one seminary. The event launched Healthy Congregations, Healthy Communities, a new congregational health initiative. Attendees were reminded that physical and emotional healing were intrinsic to Jesus’ ministry. John Wesley started medical clinics and viewed visiting the sick as a means of grace. Religious groups founded the earliest charitable hospitals in the US. Despite a trend toward privatizing church-related healthcare institutions, United Methodists are rediscovering Jesus’ call to healing and health ministries. Whether engaged in conference-wide, local partnerships, or individual initiatives, each of us holds a piece of the puzzle. Every sized congregation can do something.
Testimonies from the Trenches
Laredo First UMC (TX) helped form the Laredo Humanitarian Relief Team in the summer 2014, to respond to the needs of migrants in the US/Mexico border community who were fleeing violence. The effort expanded to include partnerships with the local Roman Catholic churches and Catholic Social Services.
Rev. Detra Bishop was appointed to Wesley UMC (Durant, MS), a small rural church scheduled to merge with another church. The congregation was “helpless and hopeless,” until the pastor heard about a GBCS Healthcare Justice training event. Rev. Bishop and a team attended in 2012. They learned how to articulate the church’s mission, skills on healthcare justice, community organizing, and team building. The team transformed its vision into the Greenwood District UMC Health Alliance, a successful health education center model that is holistic, grassroots, sustainable, and diverse.
Suncoast Kid’s Place began as a Tampa (FL) church-based initiative 2008, to provide hope for grieving children, teens and families who had experienced a death of someone significant. Today, the ministry operates a satellite facility, provides school out-based services, leads suicide support groups, and works with incarcerated youth in eight facilities.
Rev. Dr. Richard Vance (Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference) spoke on the need for clergy to take the lead. Faced with many personal health problems, he decided to change. As he began to share changes in his personal eating and exercise habits with the congregation, the church began to change. The food brought to pot lucks and distributed in the food pantry became healthier. The church started a Health Fair. The pastor began a weekly Walk with the Pastor. The results have been phenomenal. Most of the pastor’s health issues are resolved, and the church has become more outreach oriented.
Health Ministry Focus within UMC Boards and Agencies
Improving Global Health is one of four focus areas of the UMC. Although General Board of Global Ministries (umcmission.org) takes the lead for connecting the UMC in mission around the world, other general agencies share responsibility for healthcare promotion, advocacy, research, training, and initiatives. Additionally, UMC seminaries have training initiatives for current and future pastors, as well as lay people engaged in health advocacy and ministries. The United Methodist Women continues its long tradition of working to improve health for women and children.
Global Ministries health initiatives include Imagine No Malaria, the Global Health Maternal and Child Health Focus, the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence, and Deaf and Disabilities Ministries, as well as the new launched Healthy Congregations, Healthy Communities initiative. UMCOR, the humanitarian and relief agency is administratively under Global Ministries.
The General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) communicates, advocates for, and witnesses prophetically for biblical social justice, as delineated in UMC Social Principles, including the right to health care and mental health. GBCS provides educational resources for individuals and congregations. At the US Health Forum, Cynthia Abrams announced a new health and wholeness initiative that includes finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, GBCS plans two health organizing events in 2016, to train congregational teams in the areas of alcohol/substance abuse and Native American initiatives. (Contact Cynthia Abrams for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (GBPHB), Center for Health, helps build and sustain conference and local church health ministry efforts, with a special emphasis on promoting health clergy, clergy families, congregations, and communities. GBPHB conducts periodic surveys of clergy health, makes this research available to the public, and provides resources to congregations that wish to start health ministries. (See 2015 Clergy Health Survey Report.) GBPHB collaborated with UMCOR to establish the UMC Health Ministry Network, a means to connect individuals interested in congregational health ministries across the US.
Participants from Duke Divinity School and Wesley Theological Seminary described how their respective schools were training both clergy and laity for engagement in health-related ministries. Duke’s Theology, Medicine, and Culture initiative began a Reimagining Health collaboration to help congregations reimagine their role in helping transform and innovate in the area of health care. Eight churches, including two in NCCUMC, will be entering the second year of the pilot this fall. Wesley’s Heal the Sick program in Washington, DC, offers a Health Minister certificate (24 hours) and Health Minister Facilitator Training (20 hours). Class hours may be on-line, in person, or a combination. The training is for anyone (lay or clergy) in the faith community with a desire to develop core competency to serve as a health “minister” in a faith setting. For more information about the Health Minister certificate, contact Tom Pruski at email@example.com.
Resources for Local Congregations
In addition to the links provided above, speaker presentations from the US Health Forum are available at the Global Ministries US Health website.