The Center for Faith and Community Health Transformation launched in January of 2009 after over two years of planning and strategizing among leaders working in faith and health in metropolitan Chicago. The need for The Center became clear as we found our work overlapping and as we became increasingly concerned about how faith could be mobilized to address the social conditions that impacted the health of the poor and people of color. We saw the need to be more organized and connected.
Rev. Kirsten Peachey, the Director of Faith and Health Partnerships for Advocate Health Care, was serving on the Chicago Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) Chicago Partnership for Public Health (CPPH), the entity that creates a five-year plan for the health department’s community engagement efforts. One of the focus areas for this group was building structures that could help get out good health promotion messages. Creating a Center for Faith and Community Health Transformation to connect more effectively with the faith community became one of the work aims of the CPPH and was integrated into the 2006 I-PLAN (Illinois Project for Local Assessment of Needs) for the CDPH.
At the same time, Rev. Dr. Shirley Fleming, the First Deputy Commissioner at the Chicago Department of Public Health, provided leadership at the CDPH to recruit a Public Health Prevention Specialist Fellow through the CDC to work on faith-based public health partnerships. Charles Williams was the second Fellow in this role. Charles and Kirsten worked together to initiate The Center. When Charles joined the staff of the UIC Neighborhoods Initiative in 2008, UIC NI came on as a third partner in The Center project.
Another important piece of The Center’s history is the involvement of a team from Chicago’s Roseland community in a national Institute for Public Health and Faith Collaborations. The Institute was funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and developed and administered by the Interfaith Health Program at Emory University in Atlanta. The goal of the Institute was to forge stronger faith and health partnerships toward the elimination of health disparities.
A team of faith and health partners from Chicago’s Roseland community participated in the inaugural Institute in Georgia. The group included Rev. Dr. A. Edward Davis, Pastor of St. John Missionary Baptist Church; Salim Al Nurridin, President and CEO of the Healthcare Consortium of Illionis, Debra Clemmens from the Chicago Department of Public Health clinic Roseland, Rev. Jim Benn, an organizer with the Community Renewal Society, and Rev. Kirsten Peachey of Advocate Health Care’s Congregational Health Partnership program.
Through the Institute, the partners forged strong and enduring relationships and began creating a vision for deeper faith and health work. Again, Shirley Fleming was instrumental in pulling the team together and also provided leadership in bringing the Institute to Chicago so that five more teams could be trained in its transformational approach. The Chicago teams have been critical to the shaping of The Center’s approach by participating on our advisory council and providing strong partnership opportunities.
At the same time that The Center was developing, there was a group of people that had been putting together faith and health conferences and summits. This group also began to see a need to connect the myriad of faith and health activities going on around metropolitan Chicago. They created The Faith and Health Consortium of Metropolitan Chicago. Since there was a lot of overlap between the two entities in membership and agenda, the Faith and Health Consortium merged with The Center in 2009.
The Center’s approach and work has been formed by the input of our Advisory Council at each step along the way. There is a range of experience and wisdom that has guided and supported The Center’s development and work.
The Center has also benefited from the support of our sponsoring organizations and from the input and investment of countless partners throughout the faith and health movement. It is an evolving and learning entity and we invite your participation and partnership! If you think that faith has a role to play in creating loving, healthy communities of hope, justice, and wholeness, you are part of our effort. Sign up to join us!