It started with a biblical call. The beginning of James 5:14 reads: “Are any among you sick? They should call for the leaders of the church…” (NRSV). At the Church Health Center, we take this as a biblical call to focus our energies not only on the sick and the broken, but also as a directive to churches to be places of healing, of wellness, of shalom.
We began as a clinic for the working, uninsured poor— those left out of health care plans. The Center’s founder Scott Morris, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and medical doctor, opened the clinic’s doors in 1987 in Memphis, and we have worked to reclaim the church’s biblical call ever since.
Not long after the Church Health Center opened, it became obvious that something more than pills and shots was going to be needed to care for our patients. Many of our patients were suffering from what is sometimes called Syndrome X, the triad of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. Patients who did not have all three problems, often had one if not two. Lifestyle changes will not always cure or prevent the onset of these, but changes in diet and exercise can moderate the impact of these diseases on the individual.
Within weeks of opening its doors, the Center instituted diabetic education classes. For the classes, the Center established covenantal relationships with its diabetic patients— attend this series of classes in exchange for continuing to receive insulin and other diabetic medications at no charge. In this way, we helped move people from suffering from diabetes to living with diabetes.
Over ten years ago our founder, Rev. Dr. Scott Morris, had another insight. By addressing illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity with pills, shots, and advice forgotten shortly after the office visit, the Center was doing little to make our community healthier for the long run. The Center’s ministry Hope & Healing grew from a conviction that issues of prevention and wellness are equally important tools in the fight to make our communities healthier.
Hope & Healing is an 80,000 square foot, comprehensive wellness facility offering everything from personalized exercise plans and cooking classes to group exercise classes and activities for children and teenagers. It features educational areas including a teaching kitchen, gymnasium, exercise center, physical therapy room, dance studios, handicapped accessible therapy pool, chapel, and special areas designed for children.
It was our desire that Hope & Healing would:
- Provide a safe and effective environment where Center patients and members of the community could learn effective and lasting tools that would move them toward being better stewards of their own health—a place where one’s faith which might be strong enough to move mountains, might also be used in a positive way to move them toward health.
- Serve as an incubator of ideas, the best of which would be translated into materials and programs to be utilized by congregations seeking to bring healing to their faith communities and neighborhoods.
Subsequently, Faith Community Ministries, another ministry of the Church Health Center, was developed with one of its stated goals to act as both an advisory and creative conduit for the flow of programmatic ideas between Hope & Healing and worshiping congregations.
As we began to look at ways to bring healing to people on a community level through local congregations, we recognized a need for a way to help connect all of us interested in this link between faith and health. There was certainly no easy way for faith and health people in Memphis to dialogue with the likeminded people in Wichita. Nor was there a way for a person in Anchorage or in Honolulu or in Cape Town for that matter, to get ongoing support from those of us already connected.
It became apparent to us that one underutilized asset in the faith and health movement was the internet. While there was plenty of faith and health information available on the internet, it had little organization to it. When we searched the web, we saw no guiding place or website which explored health ministry in all its diversity. But as we sifted through a wide variety of denominational magazines, newspaper articles, websites, and blogs dedicated to the issue of faith and health, we saw that the commercial secular market and the faithful were producing a robust variety of information.
The main problem was finding the information and then making it relevant. Some excellent print material was not even on the web yet. We did not want to duplicate information that others had already produced to good effect. So we decided that the most favorable method of bringing together quality information would be to digest the best content on faith and health from sources on the web and in print, and organize it under a new, interactive website we call HopeandHealing.org.
HopeandHealing.org takes resources from all over the internet and digs up old articles in magazines and print publications that are not available online. Part of our work is to bring those articles on faith and health out of denominational archives and present them to a wider audience. For content already on the web, especially from sources like Christianity Today that post good content on faith and health, we generally link to the content.
Articles, digests, and links on the site are organized and searchable into several categories. The three main content categories are: Health Ministry, Living with Disease, and Wellness. Knowing that some articles will be geared primarily to particular professions, content at HopeandHealing.org is also organized under certain professional portals. Those current portals include: Chaplains, Medical Professionals, Parish Nurses, and Pastors. Finally, content is tagged as to the particular disease mentioned in the article, so someone with an interest in HIV/AIDS could see a list of all available content at HopeandHealing.org on that topic.
Whenever possible we couple articles with tips and links for developing your own ministry. Our goal is that each reflection or narrative will have a practical article on how to take action on the issue. For example, on HopeandHealing.org we have a reflection on knitting a prayer shawl which describes turning the kitting experience into a prayer for the patient. This reflection is accompanied by another article written by a lay person who began a prayer shawl ministry in her congregation. She gives practical solutions to common problems her congregation has encountered in their ministry. On HopeandHealing.org, the practical and the reflective go hand in hand.
Many of us in faith and health fields have worked in isolation for too long, and those struggling with disease have often felt lonely and without support. We realized that in addition to digesting information, we should provide a place where users could register as a member of our site and share with one another. HopeandHealing.org does not strive to be the only place where discussions in faith and health occur, but we do have a unique potential to bring together diverse groups in one space. We point our users to these social networks and other dynamic areas of the web for faith and health. For social networking, HopeandHealing.org serves as a general place for dialogue and information, as a place you can ask a question and get a quick response from an expansive network that includes the broad diversity of the body of Christ.
The Internet gives us a unique opportunity to act across borders. The body of Christ can come together around issues of faith and health like never before. As most people engaged in mission know, no one solution exists for all communities. Each congregation, village, or town is unique, and these places require their own organically developed programs. It is our hope that HopeandHealing.org brings content together in one easily accessible and usable website. At the same time, we are striving to bring unique people together to discuss the various challenges facing society today.
For over twenty years, the Church Health Center has provided comprehensive health care for the working poor of Memphis, but our ministry has not been a cold, practical matter. It is one full with the Holy Spirit. We see the dignity in each person. The James passage cries out: “Are any among you sick?” At HopeandHealing.org, we hope to create the place you come both as you begin to address this question in your community and on an ongoing basis as your health ministry develops. We hope many will find this to be a valuable resource as we seek answers to the question of James together.
William “Butch” Odom is Director of Faith Community Ministries, Church Health Center, Memphis, TN. He is a regular contributor for HopeandHealing.org. You can participate in this “healing” community at www.HopeandHealing.org.