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United Methodists to focus on health in body, mind, spirit

 


Religious leaders call on G-8 nations to end poverty

May 31, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Recognizing the importance of health—in body, mind and spirit—will be a focus of several United Methodist agencies during the next few years.

United Methodist Communications will help coordinate that focus by providing a communications strategy, which will include the creation of a Web site and finding ways to link people with volunteer opportunities and models of health-related programs, according to the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive.

Denominational representatives met in early May in Washington to start shaping this focus on health and wholeness.

"One of the things we're looking at is how agencies can collaborate around the whole issue of health and wholeness and deal with the full range of subject matter that it involves," Hollon explained.

In addition to taking care of one's self and cultivating a discipline of body, mind and spirit, the focus will promote the recognition "that we're all better when we're in a healthy relationship with God and with other people," he said.

On a broader level, the church must be an advocate for quality health care, the delivery of that care "and how it is done in a way that makes it available to everyone," Hollon added.

The United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits adopted "health as wholeness in mission" when it realized that clergy were making a higher than usual number of health and disability-related insurance claims, according to Barbara Boigegrain, the agency's chief executive.

A key determination was that health "is a bigger issue than an absence of symptoms," she noted. Both clergy and lay workers must be healthy to do God's work, and the church needs to develop spiritual disciplines to assist them "as opposed to wearing them down," she said.

Boigegrain acknowledged that health is a highly personal issue, and she believes that improvements for the denomination will occur on a regional conference-by-conference basis. "Our approach has been to raise awareness and provide information," she said.

The pension board has convened several different task forces to look at aspects of health and wholeness. The Interagency Working Group on Health and Wholeness, according to Boigegrain, "has been looking at models that are working," and also will consider curriculum development and the sharing of information among church members.

Her agency is starting to develop streams of research—working with United Methodist-related Duke University and other organizations—that focus on which activities in ministry create higher stress levels. "The research will tell us a lot," she predicted.

The denomination's Board of Discipleship also has agreed to do research on attitudes toward health and on how to discuss health in more compelling ways, according to Hollon.

The interagency task force is "looking for ways to reframe the issue of health and wholeness that create some energy and make it more compelling than just having another health fair," he explained.

The Board of Church and Society has been involved in advocacy efforts related to health care and adopted a resolution at its spring meeting to make health care a priority, according to James Winkler, chief executive.

During that meeting, Dr. Henry Simmons, executive director of the National Coalition for Health Care, addressed Church and Society directors about the health care crisis in the United States. The board is a member of the coalition.

Winkler recently served as chairman for a "congressional hearing" at Riverside Church in New York, where Congressman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and Congressmen Charles Rangel and Jerrold Nadler of New York, all Democrats, heard the testimony of 40 citizens, including health professionals. The hearing was organized by the Campaign for a National Health Plan Now!, which Church and Society supports as a member.

"The health care crisis is huge for our local churches, annual conferences and general agencies," Winkler said. "We have to help United Methodists lead healthy lives and confront a corrupt and broken health care system."

On an international level, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries will take the lead in possible health initiatives, such as a campaign to prevent malaria. The Rev. R. Randy Day, the board's chief executive, advocated such a campaign during his agency's spring meeting.

"Malaria is much on my mind as a preventable disease that is all too often fatal," he told directors. The disease kills one African child every 30 seconds and a total of 2 million people a year, he noted.

While insecticide-treated mosquito nets can reduce the incidence of malaria by 50 percent in areas of high transmission, fewer than 5 percent of African children sleep under a mosquito net, Day reported. By trying pilot programs involving mosquito nets in several locations, United Methodists could "save the lives of many children," he said.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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