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Developing a Health Ministry or Program

Over 100 years ago, people in faith communities around the country broke ground on little hospitals and clinics in their neighborhoods because no one else was providing health care for people in their communities.  Almost every hospital in the Chicago area was started by people of faith–Lutheran, Methodist, Jewish, Catholic…

People of faith attending to the health of their communities is nothing new. It’s part of our scriptures and religious practices that go back thousands of years. In the Jewish tradition Bikur Cholim, or visiting the sick, is a mitzvah, or a spiritual obligation that all Jews must perform. Many congregations develop or participate in bikur cholim programs. Muslims also have practices for visiting the sick and tending to the well-being of the community. In fact, all religious traditions teach about the integration of the body, mind and spirit and about tending to the needs of our neighbors.  People of all faiths are also professional health care providers and volunteer their skills and resources to support the health of the community.

We continue this legacy in our health ministries and programs today.  On the links at the left, you can find practical tools and resources to support the work that you are doing on linking faith and health.

What is a Health Ministry?

Every congregation is a place of healing and wholeness.  Concern for the whole person is one of the foundations of congregational life.  Every faith community engages in ministries, programs and initiatives that support the well-being of its members and of the community.  However, many congregations do not understand themselves as authorities on healing.  We just do what we do, but we leave the work of health and wholeness to the medical professionals.

A congregation has a health ministry or health program when it recognizes and claims the dynamic healing potential at the intersection of faith and health and builds an organized, intentional response rooted in the scriptures and practices of its faith tradition.

There is no single blueprint for how a faith community carries out its health commitments.  Perhaps the most important component for congregations to consider in forming a health ministry is the strengths that they bring to health and wholeness that are unique.

Faith communities are not necessarily called to provide the same services as the public health department or the social service agency. Congregations have unique qualities that are rooted in who they are as a community of faithful people striving to make God’s love real in the world.  When congregations provide leadership out of what they know and already do, powerful things happen.

This is the challenge and blessing of faith and health work.  Each congregation has its own way of expressing its call to be a place of healing.  The faith and health movement is growing and developing and more is being learned every day about how faith communities can impact the health and wholeness of the people they serve.

A joint project of Advocate Health Care & the OCEAN-HP at the University of Illinois at Chicago.