By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine
Religious and health-care leaders gathered in Detroit for a one-day conference to discuss collaborating more closely as they serve needy families. As Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine, I was at the heart of that gathering as moderator for the conference’s lineup of speakers.
That’s where our publishing house wants to be: connecting men and women with diverse religious and health-giving resources. Why? Because, as ReadTheSpirit expands to publish many new kinds of books, our core mission remains: publishing information that builds healthy communities.
In this column, I will tell you more about the inspiring conference in Detroit, but first—you’re also sure to be inspired by these resources …
- CAREGIVING FUELS GROWTH: The No. 1 question in congregations nationwide is: How can we grow? I heard the question, again, in Detroit. In this separate column, we asked several top experts to answer the question. Use the experts’ advice to convince friends that caregiving ministries will fuel growth.
- GO BEYOND TREATMENT: Today, one of our most popular writers, Heather Jose, is launching a new website, called Go Beyond Treatment, that will help you change the way families, congregations and communities respond when the diagnosis is: cancer.
- TEN COMMANDMENTS OF HEALTH: Columnist Debra Darvick often appears in national magazines, writing about family issues. Now, Debra has developed a colorful poster that teaches “Mom’s 10 Commandments of Health.” Check out her latest columns about this project.
- GET THE BOOK! Our publishing house is proud to offer a wide range of books on caregiving. The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt wrote The Book on caregiving, called Guide for Caregivers. Suzy Farbman brings spiritual hope to the challenge of caregiving in Godsigns. Then, Rodney Curtis adds a dose of humor to fighting cancer. And Roger Murchison advises congregations in Guide for Grief. Cross-cultural nursing expert Najah Bazzy looks at health-related issues in Islam in The Beauty of Ramadan.
- MEET US IN PERSON! The next major interfaith gathering in Michigan runs August 10-13, 2014. It’s the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) annual conference, bringing together men and women from across North America at Detroit’s Wayne State University. Many ReadTheSpirit writers are participating. Click that NAIN link and sign up now!
- MSU BIAS BUSTERS: We are especially pleased that Joe Grimm and the Michigan State University School of Journalism team will participate in the NAIN conference in August. (Joe Grimm took all the photos with today’s story, too.) Here is a recent MSU story about the Bias Busters. And, here is the MSU team’s listing in our bookstore.
AT THE DETROIT CONFERENCE?
The annual one-day conference was hosted by Michigan’s Interfaith Health and Hope Coalition. The coalition involves many groups, but it’s 2014 gathering was chiefly sponsored by the St. John Providence Health System. Dr. Cynthia Taueg represented St. John, which has a long history of promoting Faith & Community Nursing and St. John also is part of an innovative Healthy Neighborhoods program in Detroit.
Addressing the crowd, Dr. Taueg said improving neighborhoods begins with improving individual lives: “We understand that you can’t have healthy communities without healthy people.”
As a lifelong Detroiter, Dr. Taueg said, “We’re at a crossroads in Detroit. By the time I finally transition from this life, I want people to say: Oh, you’re talking about Detroit? I know that’s one of the healthiest places in America to live.”
To achieve such a grand goal, Dr. Taueg said, health systems must work with faith communities. Throughout the day, Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy talked with the crowd about the importance of promoting expanded health-care coverage and getting congregations more involved in caregiving partnerships, overall. Also, Taueg was joined by leaders from other health-care programs who talked to the crowd about current challenges in meeting their larger goals.
The Rev. Timothy Ahrens, pastor of First Congregational Church, a United Church of Christ congregation in Columbus, Ohio, talked about his own public campaign for expanded health coverage in Ohio.
Faith leaders must play a role, he urged. “You represent hope. Your imaginative faith brings hope alive. Your brain and spirit—wired to hope—allow others to grab hold when the waters of despair are sweeping over them.”
Kelly Herron, executive director of Cabrini Clinic in Detroit—known nationwide as America’s oldest free clinic—said that religious groups need to continue supporting free clinics. Even as medical coverage expands nationwide, many men, women and children will continue to need help.
“We’re the safety net for the safety net,” she said.
Herron also urged religious leaders to help members in their communities navigate the complex new layers of health care. She described how her clinic is helping clients to register for health coverage, but signing up is only the first step.
“As they are approved, our patients cry. They’re so happy. They are overwhelmed,” she said. “Then, they ask us: ‘Now what?'” Countless men and women are coming into health-care systems this year for the first time. Many of them have no experience accessing doctor’s offices, hospitals and pharmacies. Congregations can share helpful information to smooth this often rocky transition.
Melissa DaSilva—director of operations for Advantage Health Centers, which specialize in linking government programs especially with people who are struggling with homelessness—told the crowd that health care is more than a matter of dispensing treatment.
“Health care is also about helping people to achieve wellness by obtaining a housing wage and affordable housing,” she said.
As DaSilva urged participants to think broadly about health and caregiving in their communities, many heads nodded and pens scratched notes about her recommendations. Other speakers echoed her broader vision of the challenge shared by health care systems and religious groups.
Marcella Wilson, president of MATRIX Human Services, talked about the MATRIX method of linking a wide range of programs to help men and women move out of chronic cycles of poverty. It’s not enough simply to treat a medical condition, or provide a shelter, or serve food—or provide any one response disconnected from others, she said. Helping people climb out of poverty requires many kinds of partnerships. She urged faith leaders to find out how they can contribute to such efforts, wherever they are based.
This is hard work, Wilson told the crowd. “As leaders in a city with desperate need and boundless optimism, we need to remember that vision without backbone is hallucination!”
Renee Branch Canady, chief executive of the Michigan Public Health Institute, echoed Wilson’s and DaSilva’s appeals for broad vision in meeting the needs of people living in poverty. Canady’s nonprofit advocates at all levels—from local communities to Washington D.C.—on behalf of collaborative programs to build healthier communities.
“I don’t want my grandchildren to still be having this conversation,” Canady told the crowd. One way to inspire the hard work of forging cooperative new programs is to tap into our deepest values, including the values within faith communities. “We must invite our values to the table with us,” she said.
Adding to the list of issues that congregations can address, Canady said one challenge religious groups might tackle is easier access to everyday, healthful activities. An example: Many neighborhoods don’t have safe and barrier-free areas where residents can go walking each day.
“We must look at the built environment around us,” she said. “If we want people to get exercise by walking more, then we have to provide places they can walk. We have to make the healthy choice the easy choice. Can people walk around your neighborhood?”
The Rev. Dr. Urias Beverly told the crowd about the deep roots of these issues in the Abrahamic faiths. Beverly is the director of the doctor of ministry and the Muslim chaplaincy programs at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit. He also serves as professor of pastoral care and counseling,
“Health and religion have been wedded as long as there have been men and women on the earth,” Beverly said.
Tom Watkins, president of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority, closed the conference by reminding faith leaders that mental health issues are an essential part of congregational caregiving.
“There is not a zip code in the United States that is not touched by the mental health care system,” Watkins said. “And if your own family and friends have not been touched by mental health issues—then it’s only a matter of time before someone you know is a part of this.”
He urged religious leaders to go home and spread the word: “Without quality mental health care—you don’t have quality health care.”