Tips for starting a health ministry
By Deborah White
Starting a health ministry can be as simple as cultivating a healthy environment at church to support positive lifestyle choices, says the Rev. Pam Harris, M.D., a physician and United Methodist clergywoman.
Harris, associate medical director of Kansas City Hospice and Palliative Care, started the health ministry at Leawood (Kan.) United Methodist Church where she serves as minister of health. Previously she started and led the health ministry at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood.
She will be among the speakers at the third annual National Congregational Health Ministries Conference Sept. 23-26 in Wichita, Kan., sponsored by the General Board of Global Ministries and the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.
Harris will lead workshops about laying the foundation for health ministry and using planning tools to develop action plans. She recommends looking beyond the typical health ministry model of health education and medical screenings.
“We’re trying to get folks to think about expanding the view of health ministry to look at whole person care – body, mind spirit, all together and all in balance,” she says.
“Everyone knows if you want to lose weight you need to decrease calories and expend more energy. Nobody loses any weight by knowing that,” she says. “Very often people need to do some work in time management, stress management, mental/emotional and spiritual care.”
Harris offers a few tips for starting a health ministry:
• Find out what people want, present it in a non-threatening way, make it fun and provide support. “Congregational assessment is one of the most critical things,” she says.
• Don’t limit leadership to medical professionals. Other members of the congregation may have a passion for healthy lifestyles.
• Encourage church members to participate together in a health event in the community, such as a fundraising walk or run.
• Offer healthy food alternatives, such as a bowl of fruit for fellowship hour or salads and vegetables trays at church dinners.
• Learn about resources available from groups such as the American Heart Association or American Cancer Society. “Many groups have people who will provide education. You don’t have to do it yourself,” she says.
Two scholarships per annual conference are available for the health ministries conference, which has a registration deadline of Sept. 1. To register or to learn more, see www.gbophb.org and click on “Events and Education,” or call Anne Green, (847) 866-4560.
--Deborah White is associate editor of Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine.