UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2008 / 0804-Creating Shalom through Health

Creating Shalom through
Health – Wholeness – Peace

By Melissa Hinnen*

NEW YORK, August 4, 2008—The developing health ministry at First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD plays an important role in the congregation's identity. According to the Rev. Chris Owens, "discipleship under Jesus Christ is holistic, both spiritual and physical, and following Jesus requires our whole selves; the healthier we are, the more able we are to be about the will of God." Using the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) website to help guide their mission and connecting with the faith community nurse network in the area, Becky Boeckman is forming a diverse health ministry team to emphasize holistic health in the congregation and their community.

Caring for all God's children

The congregation was blessed with a baby boom in their congregation this year. Over the course of twelve months, thirteen babies—including 4 sets of twins—were born. Boeckman, a faith community nurse, developed a program of respite, meals, advocacy and education to help the new families. One of the moms, Lavonne Swank, started a walking club and invited the new parents to push their baby strollers while discussing topics such as pediatricians, nutrition, and general health and safety.

"As a former Navy wife, I know what it is like having to raise children while your husband is out to sea. A number of the families with new babies are military and others also do not have close relatives to help. The church becomes our family," Boeckman explains.

The ministry reaches well beyond the new mom's program and provides comprehensive support to those who are ill or homebound in their community. When Lee Ruby, who directs the church's nurture and evangelism programs, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, one of the members coordinated a transportation service to drive him to the treatment center and Boeckman served as one of the drivers. She assessed and made recommendations about his nutrition and set up a schedule for members of the congregation to provide meals. Now cancer free, Ruby and Boeckman work together closely to reach out to homebound members of the congregation, complementing each other's respective roles.

The newest focus of the health ministry is integrating the gifts of special needs members and sharing them with the community. In addition to a woman with Down syndrome and a recently confirmed teenager who has severe mental retardation, Rev. Owen's new son has Down syndrome. By educating the congregation and honoring the gifts of all in their community, Rev. Owens hopes to create a welcoming environment for other families with special needs members.

"First United Methodist Church is a wonderful example of how a commitment to wellness ministry is driven by a desire to mirror Jesus' holistic ministry," says Patricia Magyar, executive for Global Ministries' Health and Welfare unit. "As part of the United Methodist connection, Global Ministries provides resources and networks for churches like First United Methodist Church to strengthen and grow their programs."

Empowering Health Ministries Conference

One powerful resource offered to churches wanting to start or nurture congregational health is the upcoming Empowering Health Ministries Conference. From September 21-24, 2008 in Lake Junaluska, NC, the conference, produced by the United Methodist Church, will provide people like Boeckman the opportunity to share information about successful health ministry programs, while networking with other faith community nurses. The conference will empower the church community to provide a wellness service that is an effective ministry tool to serve its congregants in mind, body and spirit.

Conference participants will learn how to analyze their wellness programs for return on investment, learn how to build a wellness team and seek grant funding, as well as identify the tools that mobilize people to develop ministries of health. A parish nurse track on "caring for the caregivers" will examine tools for empowering and working with clergy and helping families in crisis. Click here for more information. Registration for this event is now closed.

To connect with a network of United Methodist faith community nurses, join the online discussion group by submitting your information here.

* Melissa Hinnen is the staff writer for UMCOR communications