Health and health care is the topic of conversation at the dinner table, at the office, in the boardrooms of businesses and health plans, in the media and in legislatures. What does the church have to add to this discussion?
The answers to the complex issues and problems of fostering good health and providing quality health care for all will come from our communities. What better place to begin the discussion than within a community of faith where our values and ethics direct us to be stewards of our own health and of the health of our neighbors?
ELCA social statement
It is essential to understand the complexity of health and health services and the issues that impact health and access to health care in order to effect change. Change will come as a result of understanding the need for change and the development of a consensus on how to effect change.
It will come from a shared conviction that health is a gift from God and that we are the stewards of the gift. Although most may agree that health care is a right and that access to health care services should be available and affordable for all, consensus on how to make it happen has not been and will not be easy. We need to start with actions for which we have some reasonable degree of control and responsibility.
Health and healing were significant parts of Jesus’ ministry, and that work should continue within the ministry and mission of the church.
Health tips for congregations
Affirm the importance of a healthy lifestyle for pastors, church staff and congregational members. Make health a part of your congregation’s ministry through a parish nurse, a health and wellness committee, services of health and healing, health education and community outreach to improve health.
Evaluate and, if necessary, change the foods that are prepared and offered at committee meetings and congregational events. Incorporate physical activity into worship and congregational-life events. Pray for the health of others and in support of health care workers. Establish a system of caregivers to address the specific needs of members with chronic or acute disease or health crises.
As an important member of the community, the congregation is well suited for understanding and responding to community health issues.
Be knowledgeable about the health issues of the diverse populations of your community — whether related to gender, age, ethnic heritage, occupation or socioeconomic status.
Understand the impact of environmental damage, poverty, social isolation, discrimination, oppression and violence on health and the Christian obligation to address these issues. Be aware of and active in addressing lack of access to safe places and affordable avenues for physical activity and affordable healthy foods.
In addition, support the financial and human resources needed to address mental-health needs and the needs of those who do not have access to affordable health care services.
Taking it to the neighborhood
Understand the needs and the realities of your neighbors. Visit your neighbors and ask about their health needs — physical, emotional, social, intellectual, vocational and spiritual. Support your community health clinics and others who address those needs.
Have conversations with health care providers and community leaders to understand the needs and realities of others in the community and to consider the role of the congregation and the possibilities for partnership.
Converse and partner with health care providers and community leaders to address the health needs of the community. Invite the health care providers in your congregation to discuss those needs and help develop strategies for responding to them.
Host a meeting with other congregations, health care leaders, social ministry organizations and community leaders to prioritize health care needs that could benefit from joint community efforts involving the congregations.
Use the knowledge gained from being actively involved and informed to convene a community group to advocate effectively with informed proposals to address specific needs. Work together to address the appropriate use of and demand for medical technology in a way that uses resources to assure that the basic health needs of all are met and that health promotion and prevention are supported in proportion to cure and rescue.
Work against the cultural denial of death by making death and dying a natural part of the life cycle that should not be feared and that can be enhanced through palliative and hospice care. Encourage and support pastoral care and spiritual care as part of the health care team and services. Support, encourage and recruit individuals to continue their work in or prepare for roles in spiritual, social and health care services.
Health is a gift from God, and it is the work of the church to honor that gift through the support and practice of healing and the promotion and improvement of our health.