United Methodists Promote Healthy Congregations and Communities

Date Posted: 8/26/2015

How can churches and their denominational networks of agencies and institutions help to improve the health of their members, personnel, and communities?
This question will be center stage in Houston, Texas, in September at a forum launching a new health initiative within The United Methodist Church. “Healthy Congregations, Healthy Communities” is an extension of a Methodist emphasis on physical, mental, and spiritual health begun in 18th century England by John Wesley, the Methodist movement’s founder.
The event is billed as a “health summit,” bringing together 165 health specialists and others in positions to encourage and assist the development of congregational and community health ministries. It is sponsored by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministriesthe General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, and Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. Local hosts and sponsors are the Houston Methodist Hospital and St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, along with the Texas Annual (regional) Conference and its episcopal leader, Bishop Janice Huie.
Outside the U.S., and primarily in Africa, there are more than 200 United Methodist hospitals and clinics. Methodists have established many hospitals and eldercare and childcare facilities in the U.S. But the forum in Houston is less about institution-based health care and more about ways congregations can use their facilities, powers of persuasion, and resources to help members, clergy, other employees, and communities in general to experience more healthy and wholesome living.
“The primary focus is on the United States, where health needs, according to a recent United Methodist survey, differ from those in less medically developed parts of the world,” said Thomas Kemper, the chief executive of the Global Ministries agency. “While maternal and child health and clean water were priorities outside of the U.S., in the U.S. the emphasis in the survey was on mental health, non-communicable diseases, and aging.”
Global Ministries, the United Methodist mission agency, has a newly reestablished Global Health unit. The pension and health benefits board has done pioneering work in the improvement of preventative and palliative care for its clergy and lay constituencies. Wesley Seminary offers a special curriculum in health-care ministry and faith-community nursing.
Many congregations are already engaged in holistic health ministries, often through the “parish nurse” model, health fairs, and Sunday morning health screenings, and some of this congregation-based approach extends into communities. The forum will show models and encourage the extension of congregation and community-based primary health care, including through partnerships with private or public health programs.
Ways to improve the health records of clergy are part of the agenda, and the result of a 2015 Clergy Health Survey, conducted by the pensions and health benefits agency, will be discussed. That survey is online at http://www.gbophb.org/assets/1/7/4785.pdfhttp://www.gbophb.org/assets/1/7/4785.pdf.
Almost half of the more than 60 United Methodist annual conferences in the U.S. will be represented in Houston, along with staff or others from eight of the denomination’s 13 general agencies, plus United Methodist Women, and health industry participants.
Twenty speakers will explore models, options, and best practices for achieving healthy congregations and healthy communities.
Elliott Wright is an information consultant working with the General Board of Global Ministries.
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