Health Ministry as a Role Model
Health ministry should be a vital component of parish life for many reasons. Obvious benefits of a healthier congregation can include better pastoral care, increased fellowship among parishioners, fewer hospital visits, and clergy who feel energized and physically well enough to take care of others. Individuals in a parish who begin living a healthier lifestyle often act as an inspiration to those around them.
However, there are other, less obvious benefits as well. An effective health ministry program can be a model for other ministries in the parish, as a healthy environment can be a common thread throughout all ministries and activities of the church. For instance, a health ministry team at an individual parish might ask the following questions, among others:
- How do our systems (meeting structure, interactions, etc.) contribute to a positive, healthy environment for our parishioners, clergy and staff?
- How are we utilizing teams effectively and engaging new parish members so that we do not ‘burn out’ the same volunteers repeatedly?
- Are our services and programs accessible to all? Do we offer options so that people with asthma/allergies can avoid incense, etc. if necessary?
- How do we identify those who are struggling or suffering and provide them pastoral care?
- Do we respect our clergy’s Sabbath time? How do we support their efforts to engage in a healthy lifestyle?
- Do we serve healthy, nutritious meals at parish events?
- How do we encourage parishioners to be physically active and provide them opportunities to deepen their relationships with each other through community?
These are just some of the questions that may be asked by the health ministry team at a parish. However, I think these questions hold equal relevance for the vestry, the clergy, altar guild, etc. Asking all ministries to engage in a thoughtful exercise about how they can include a health component provides many benefits that often become clear only in hindsight.
Just as individuals can act as role models for other individuals, excellent ministry programs can do the same for other parish ministries. The next step is to make your healthy congregation a model for other congregations, dioceses, and ultimately the whole church!
Matthew Ellis is the executive director of National Episcopal Health Ministries (NEHM).