In a training for faith community members and leaders, I often ask participants to name places that enhance health. Answers usually include things like doctors, gyms, clinics, the local Area Agency on Aging, organizations addressing diabetes or heart disease or dementia, hospitals, even the place where I work, Interfaith Community Services. Every once in awhile, in a group of faith community people, the $64,000 answer comes up: our faith communities!
Indeed, for ages, spiritual sages have seen and taught the interconnectedness of our well-being—spirit, mind, body, community. The heady Age of Enlightenment (as if previous ages weren’t enlightened in their holistic views of life) separated body and spirit, science and religion. Still, wise ones always kept alive the whole view.
The health ministry movement gained traction in the 1970’s, largely through the work of Rev. Grainger Westburg, a Lutheran pastor and hospital chaplain, and his colleagues. Congregations are intentionally reclaiming their role as places of health and healing. There are classes on healthy nutrition, fall prevention, mental illness/health, spiritual practices, and more. There are yoga, tai chi, chair exercise classes, and more. There are healing services, prayer gatherings, spiritual direction groups, and more. There are support groups, community gardens, labyrinths, and more. There is the understanding that everything a congregation offers is interwoven to support well-being, of individuals, families, the congregation, the community. Through all activities is threaded faith, drawing on scripture, prayer, worship, ritual, trust in the Source of Life. As I hear from pastors and health ministry leaders, such health-minded programs enliven the life of congregations.
For a point of interest, the Health Ministries Association, the national group for anyone involved or interested in congregation-based health programs, is holding its annual conference this year in our backyard—Chandler, AZ. Dates are September 12-14, with a lineup of inspiring speakers, enlightening workshops, meeting and learning from other participants, caring for our spirits…..it’s always a great time together. More information on Health Ministries Association (HMA) and the conference is at www.hmassoc.org. (Disclosure: I serve on the HMA Board.)