by Matthew Ellis   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/health-ministry-as-outreach">Health Ministry as Outreach</a></h1>

I've long maintained that an active health ministry program focuses as an additional source of community outreach. This anecdote was spotted in the St. Luke's July newsletter:

St. Luke's Prescott (AZ) caught my attention when we visited because there was an invitation to have your blood pressure taken before entering the sanctuary. In an irreverent moment I asked what happens in their church that having one's blood pressure taken was suggested. The greeter in a moment of inspiration said, “come in and see for yourself.” In these days of hypersensitivity to social and political activities inside and outside our churches it was refreshing to be invited in for the Lord to show us the way to excitement about our faith.

Do you have any funny/inspirational anecdotes about health ministry as outreach? Share your story with us in the comments section!

Matthew Ellis serves as executive director of National Episcopal Health Ministries.

by Rev. Joanna J. Seibert M.D.   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/la-pieta"> La Pieta</a></h1>

“O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.” Psalm 131.

The call comes late Saturday morning. “Alwyn’s wife is dying. Come quickly.” I had visited her earlier in the week. She was having her second round of chemotherapy for recurrence of her cancer after ten years. The cancer had come back like a vengeance and she was being treated with all the heavy drugs and then some. I had instantly fallen in love with her at that first visit… a sweet, sweet lady, probably in her sixties, fighting for her life with great grace. Her face was framed by a bright bandanna to cover her hair loss. She was pale, weak but cheerful and hopeful. I enter her room now for a second time, but this time she is in intensive care. She lies in the bed immobile in a deep coma very near death. Her eyes are open, her face now ashen, her breathing very irregular.

She is surrounded by family and friends, but one relative is in the corner talking on a cell phone, and two others are in another corner discussing her medical condition and what did and did not happen. I think how we know so little and are so poorly prepared to help a loved one have a sacred death. I think of Megory Anderson’s very practical writings of how death is another miracle, like being born. Our job is to be the midwife so that the journey be as sacred as possible, focusing totally on the needs of the one dying. I wish I had brought my harp or called a friend who knows even better than I how to play the harp for the dying. I want to tell the family to bring in Shari’s favorite music and flowers and a quilt or other sacred objects and photographs and sit by her and read her favorite stories or poems or Psalms to her.

I recall how sometimes reading a favorite bedtime prayer or children’s story seems to bring a special peace to the one dying and to the family. I have seen a candle lit at the head of the bed to call everyone to the sacredness of the time if it is allowed. I want to tell them to come and sit beside her and touch and hold her and just be present with her. But I am meeting this family for the first time, and am afraid to intrude.

I stand silent in the room, my own breath loud in my ears. I look around the room to try to find answers as to what to do next when I suddenly stop, my breathing now inaudible. There below me in a wheel chair at the head of the bed beside this still beautiful gravely ill woman is her 93-year-old mother gently holding her hand and calmly and softly whispering to her dying daughter. This frail mother slowly looks up and almost inaudibly says, “I keep talking to Shari. I don’t know if she hears me, but I must keep talking to her. Do you think she hears me?” “Yes, I think she hears,” I instinctively answer. This aged, suffering mother knows what to do, what to say, how to sooth her precious child so near death and is modeling for the rest of us how to help someone through a sacred passage.

Shari’s mother and I ask the others in the room if they would like to say prayers for the dying and help us anoint this dear one. The room becomes silent, and they now join us in prayers as we circle her bed. I slowly walk out of her room and the hospital. I do not want to lose this image of mother and child. Driving home I keep seeing Michelangelo’s sculpture of La Pieta in St. Peter’s in the Vatican, except now the statue is of an aged mother, in a wheel chair who will soon be holding her dead child as best she can, as only mothers know how to do.

Prayer at the Burial of a Child

O God, whose beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them: Give us grace to entrust this child N. to your never-failing care and love, and bring us all to your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. BCP, p. 494.

Megory Anderson, Attending the Dying, A Handbook of Practical Guidelines, Morehouse, 2005.

Story from 'Healing Presence.' Dr. Seibert is a pediatric radiologist at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences who has been an ordained deacon in the Diocese of Arkansas for nine years. She is a facilitator for the Community of Hope, Walking the Mourner’s Path and Trinity’s health ministry. She is also on the board of the National Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church. You can find about more Dr. Seibert and her books at

by Matthew Ellis   |   comments

 One of the real joys of the internet is being exposed to new thoughts and ideas. I find this particularly exciting, as I'm one of the least creative people on the planet. That said, my lack of personal ability only enhances my appreciation of others with talent. In the case of Adele, I am simply in awe. 

The idea for Mila's Daydreams is simple: While Adele's daughter Mila naps, she imagines what Mila is dreaming and tries to bring it to life. 


In an interview with Offbeat Mama, Adele said "Once Mila fell asleep at the floor and my husband placed conductors baton on her hand. She looked like little fencer. So I got idea from my hubby. Next day I when she fell a sleep, I built a little forest set with a pillows and blankets over our living room rug and gently carried her to the middle of it, and snapped quick photos."

Her SuperPinkiness

I'm usually fairly immune to the latest round of cuteness on the internet. Dogs being silly, cats playing pianos, children eating birthday cake... little of it seems to stick beyond a momentary amusement. Something about the creativity of this just really makes me feel happy. I think a big part of it is the fact that Mila is completely oblivious to these dreamworlds being created for her, but when she gets older she's going to have some of the most amazing photos of herself.

Surfer Girl

So how does this relate to health ministry? Well, I suppose mostly it doesn't, except that it's pretty awesome and might make you smile a bit as you look through the pictures. Visit Mila's Daydreams to see the entire collection!

Matthew Ellis serves as executive director of National Episcopal Health Ministries.

tags Sleep
by Matthew Ellis   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/Fair-Food-itis">Fair Food-itis</a></h1>

Despite all of my efforts to promote healthy eating, I must confess to a chronic condition that at times leaves me feeling weak in the knees and struggling for breath. This condition affects millions every year and I know of no cure. I'm speaking, of course, about Fair Food-itis. This specific disease is seasonal in nature but can be devastating nonetheless. Symptoms include excessive sweating, nausea, abnormal blood sugar, and drooling.

I have a long history of Fair Food-itis. My wife especially enjoys telling the story of the first fair we went to early in our relationship. Even now, she gets a look of shock on her face as she tries to list the various food items consumed that day. I won't attempt to recreate the list, except to say if it was served on a stick or on a plate, I probably had at least one order that day. Of course, that was at a time where I could consume pounds of food in one sitting with no weight gain. Those days, unfortunately, are long gone. *sigh*

New fair foods are... well, disgusting.

In my defense, those were also the days when fair food was somewhat normal. Corn on the cob, porkburgers, cheese curls. in recent years, fair food has aspired to a level of decadence that would make Caligula blush. The two 'so disgusting you have to try it' foods in Indiana this year are doughnut burgers and deep fried butter

In California, they're apparently taking a different route: python kabobs, frog and alligator are on the menu, as is chocolate covered bacon and deep fried Twinkies. If this is California's first go at deep fried candy, they've got quite a way to go as we in the Midwest have had deep fried Snickers, Moon Pies, Twinkies, Pepsi (yes, Pepsi soda) and just about anything else you can imagine for years now. 

These foods are so over the top, so intentionally bizarre, they just reek of desperation. I want to tell those selling it: 'You're trying too hard!' Fair food should sell itself.

To those buying it, I say this: 'If you entered a restaurant, would you order a thick, greasy slab of hamburger covered in cheese and placed between two glazed doughnuts? No? Then what is appealing about ordering it from a trailer without running water that's been sitting in the 100 degree heat all day?'

What's next? A doughnut burger wrapped in bacon, smothered in cheese and chocolate, then deep-fried? I think I'll stick to the pork on a stick, thank you.   

What to do?

My resistance to the latest crazy concoctions aside, I'm certainly the last person to be a killjoy and suggest eating a salad at the State Fair. However, there are some strategies that you can use to avoid outgrowing your clothes while still wearing them. So here are some tips for how to survive Fair Food-itis from

  • Don't arrive hungry. Eat before you go so you can limit your food to a few treats instead of grazing on food all day long.
  • Go early in the morning, when you may be less likely to be enticed by the aromas of food.
  • Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated, especially when the weather is hot.
  • Check out all the offerings first, then choose three items over the course of the day.
  • Ask for an extra plate and share your food choices. This way, you can taste a variety of foods without doing too much damage.

I wish you and your loved ones a safe passage through this dangerous time of the year. H1N1 is scary, but it's nothing compared to the horrors of Fair Food-itis!

Matthew Ellis serves as executive director of National Episcopal Health Ministries.

by Matthew Ellis   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/bike-ministry">Bike Ministry</a></h1>

"We just struggle to get people into church. They'd rather spend a beautiful Sunday morning out on their bikes."
Bruce Strade,
Northwest Parish Nurse Ministries, Portland, OR

This is a challenge that is perhaps more unique to Portland, OR than many other cities. After all, Portland is the bike capital of the America. Bruce and I talked about what an interesting problem this is for a city and its churches to have. It seems that there should be a way to harness all this positive energy being expended outside in God's creation. 

Bike Ministry**

The solution? Find some clergy who enjoy biking to lead a bike ride (maybe different rides for different abilities?) up to a scenic point, have a 15 minute sermon, then return. Along the way, conversations about God and spirituality could be encouraged, fellowship shared, and new insights gained. 

The more we talked, the more we saw how this ministry could be shaped by the needs of the communities. You could have serious, highly trained riders with a challenging course (if the clergy are up to it!), leisurely family rides, or anything in between. You could do it during the week or on the weekend, incorporate a meal, or have several 'mini-sermons' at rest stops along the way. You could even have a bike ministry for motorcycles, although that is a much less healthy model!

What if your community doesn't have a bike culture?

Of course, Portland is unique in the United States, as most of the country has yet to develop a similar love for biking. However, I think there are still some lessons to be learned here. If there is a population in your community that is unable (or unwilling) to modify their schedules to meet the normal worship times, how can you reach out to them? Maybe you simply need to offer a service at an unusual time of day or change the location to one near public transportation. 

We may not be able to completely rearrange services for the benefit of a few (nor would I suggest that's a good idea if you could) but it's also worthwhile to periodically take a fresh look at your community as you think about ministry development. 

Now, about that name...

One area Bruce and I struggled with once we became excited about this idea was the name. Holy Rollers? Heaven on Wheels? We never really settled on a good one. So...

  • What are your suggestions?
  • Would this ministry work in your community?
  • What other ideas does this inspire for you?

Let us know in the comments!

**As with any good idea, someone else has already thought of it. Here are a few bike ministries I found in an online search:

Bicycle Tips:

 Matthew Ellis serves as executive director of National Episcopal Health Ministries.