UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2008 / 0828-Health Ministry as the Cornerstone of Congregational Care

Health Ministry as the Cornerstone of
Congregational Care

By Melissa Hinnen*

August 28, 2008—Mary Jane has been a vibrant member of Hughes United Methodist Church in Wheaton, Md. for more than 50 years. A wonderful cook, she coordinated the food for wedding receptions and funerals and volunteered with the local Meals on Wheels. Now that she is mostly homebound, she continues serving the church by writing poetry and sending it to young members who are away from home in the military or at college. While her driving is limited, she makes it a point to drive to church whenever she can. "I thank the Lord every morning for my Hughes family," she states.

Carol Whitney, Hughes UMC's faith community nurse, is an advocate for Mary Jane. She visits regularly and helps explain different options to facilitate care for her son, who has a developmental disability. Whitney encouraged her to apply for a Lifeline service so that she can receive immediate medical care if there is an emergency - and also reminds her to wear the device. When the doctor prescribed new medications, Whitney took the time to discuss some of the possible side effects. Mary Jane explains, "Carol translates the medical rigmarole -- I don't know what the church would do without her."

In addition to her visitation role, Whitney works with other nurses to develop a comprehensive congregational care team. They organize workshops ranging from creating a living will to explaining the Medicare drug program. Issues of nutrition and obesity are addressed through a 12 week weight management program. Through the lay visitation program, members are partnered with nursing home residents and provide prayer, comfort and friendship.

A Conference Wide Ministry

Whitney is preparing to extend her ministry beyond the local church. After returning from the United Methodist Empowering Health Ministries event last year, she felt encouraged to develop a conference-wide health ministry. She is identifying parish nurses in the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference and creating a network for them to resource and learn from each other.

Global Ministries is exploring ways to support the annual conference in developing this program. UMCOR Health executive, Patricia Magyar, has been in conversation with Whitney. She says, "Out of the wonderful work that is happening in local churches, the next step is to broaden and strengthen the programs by connecting with others doing similar work."

Magyar continues, "With conferences like Empowering Health Ministries and resources like the on-line discussion group, faith community nurses have a number of opportunities to develop their programs on the conference and local level."

Empowering Health Ministries Conference

The upcoming Empowering Health Ministries Conference, produced by the United Methodist Church will take place September 21-24, 2008 in Lake Junaluska, NC. 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. Click here to register or for more information.

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