United Methodist Church Pushes New Focus On Community Health

Columbus, Miss. - It's not uncommon to hear about missionaries and medical volunteers in far-flung corners of the world who deal with health crises every day.

More unusual is news of churches uniting to address the health of their own congregations, clergy and communities at home. Team HOPE and the United Methodist Church (UMC) hope to change that.

Health and wellness are developing into a major focus with the creation of this health care advocacy team that will spread the message throughout the UMC Starkville District, said District Superintendent Dr. Embra Jackson.

Retired nurse and District Health Coordinator Carolyn Jackson and a team of trained health coordinators are developing this ministry following the Christ for Community Health Advocate Training, held in October 2014 by the Mississippi Conference of the UMC and the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.

The Golden Triangle Region Team HOPE is currently made up of about 25 people. They come from various area churches, from government, medical clinics, the Y, nursing homes and neighborhoods. They are linking arms as advocates and partnering with others to develop health kiosks, health screenings and health fairs. The team model allows for churches of any size to work with community groups and share resources to address health and well-being issues that may range from basic screenings to feeding the hungry, elder care, spiritual health and even crime prevention.

The Rev. Sandra Brown of FUMC has been enthusiastic about the initiative since getting involved at the October conference. She attended with Lee Burdine of Columbus, volunteer coordinator of the Mississippi Conference Health Ministry, and Eve Priester and Jackie Easley of Columbus' St. James United Methodist Church.

"I watched the holy spirit move around the room for days," Brown said. "I watched us all sit at the same table with the same passion and same desires to bring church and community together for health advocacy...I cannot wait to see what God weaves together in this beautiful ministry."

That core group brought the spark home from Jackson and held the first meeting of Team HOPE in November at FUMC. Brown described the gathering as "dynamically empowering."

Much of Jesus' ministry dealt with health, wellness and the healing of body, mind and spirit, organizers say.

"Health ministry can be a life-giving and life-changing mission for local congregations," said Burdine. "We can have a positive impact on the well-being of our friends and neighbors across our great state."

Health and well-being are part of our daily lives within our churches, he said.

"When someone or someone in your family or community develops a health issue, our churches can offer a powerful place of love, care and nurturing support. Local health ministry programs can demonstrate pure love for each other."

The good health of clergy members is a Team HOPE goal. The calling can entail its own stresses and unusual hours. Some clergy concentrate so on tending to their congregations they forget to tend to themselves.

"There is much sickness in the clergy," said the Rev. Brenda McCaskill, pastor of St. James UMC. "The Conference has become really sensitive to it."

Team HOPE member Jackie Easley of St. James UMC said, "We want people to build themselves up in health, and build up spiritually."

"Yes," Eve Priester of St. James said. "We're trying our best to help you with health and steer you in a good direction."

Team enthusiasm is high, especially with a Feb. 28 health fair on the horizon, to be followed soon by the first Community Health Advocate training of local volunteers in how to do basic screenings.

It all shows the power of people from different churches and backgrounds uniting and working side by side, McCaskill said. It is the power of "we."

"It's a spark turning into a fire," Brown said. "The holy spirit is on fire."