KOH2RVA: Day 46

Martin McCain

Yesterday I wrote about “The Memphis Model,” a partnership between hospitals and congregations to keep people healthy. I talked about how doctors and hospitals know about the things that lead to death, but pastors and congregations know about the things that lead to life. Consider the example of one man:

Every two weeks or so, this diabetic’s bad habits—drinking, getting high—landed him in Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s seven-hospital system in Memphis. During a hospital visit a couple of years back, a question sparked the beginning of the change.

“Who’s your pastor?” hospital staff member Blanch Thomas asked. The Rev. Martin McCain, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church, he responded. Ms. Thomas checked records and found the church was in Methodist Healthcare’s Congregational Health Network—the official title of the Memphis Model.

Ms. Thomas, who carries the title “navigator” in the network, called Dr. McCain. He unleashed some tough love on the man.

“I told him, ‘You have to take care of yourself if you want to be helpful to your girlfriend and your kids. You are too sick to be out running around with your fellas,’” Dr. McCain said.

Dr. McCain persisted, often tracking the man down on the streets. The pastor also kept in close contact with Ms. Thomas.

Today, the man—now 31—has made positive lifestyle changes that keep him away from the hospital for months at a time.

“I hate to even think about where he’d be if it wasn’t for CHN,” Ms. Thomas said of the network (by Nancy Hull Rigdon, the United Methodist Reporter, October 24, 2012).

Again, I wonder if we could do something like that in Richmond: create a partnership between hospitals and congregations that would give people life and not just save people’s lives. It’s not just “tough love” that people need. Some people need tender love. They need someone to bring them a casserole when they come home from the hospital, someone to remind them to take their pills, someone to drive them to a doctor’s appointment. All of those are ways of helping people stay healthy and stay out of the hospital. Wouldn’t that be a good way to bring heaven to earth?

KOH2RVA: Day 45

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What does the church have to do with health care?

More than you might think.  Certainly more than I thought before hearing Gary Gunderson speak last night.  

Gary is convinced that the church is a vital part of the health care system in this country.  In fact, he says that while hospitals are essentially “treatment systems,” churches are essentially “health systems,” and while doctors know what will kill you, pastors know what will give you life.  

He should know.  

The Rev. Dr. Gary Gunderson is Vice President of Faith and Health Services at Wake Forest Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Prior to that he held a similar position at a hospital in Memphis where he discovered that people who were part of a faith community had about half the “raw mortality rate” of those who were not, and stayed out of the hospital 39% longer.  He enlisted 400 congregations in the Memphis area to partner with the hospital in keeping people healthy.  

It worked.

Dr. Gunderson’s approach has become known as “the Memphis Model,” and the people in Winston-Salem are very excited about using that model there. I’m wondering what would happen if we tried it in Richmond.

Could churches all over town partner with hospitals to keep people healthy?  Could this be one of the ways we help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia?

I need to learn more about the Memphis Model, but last night’s talk whetted my appetite.  I love the idea that while doctors and hospitals are busy preventing the things that lead to death, pastors and congregations are busy promoting the things that lead to life.  

Let’s do some of that today.

KOH2RVA: Day 44

I’m on the road this morning, driving from Lynchburg, Virginia, where I had a meeting last night, to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where I have a meeting this afternoon. I don’t really have time to blog. But I did want to share this picture I took at First Baptist Church on Wednesday night because it tells a remarkable story.

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Ron Maxwell works on the custodial staff at First Baptist, and is also a member of our deaf mission. He has a ready smile and a sweet spirit, and when I see him in the hallways at church I practice my very limited sign language by saying something like, “Good morning!” or, “How are you?” He’s very patient with me, and corrects me gently when I get it wrong.

But here he is, up on the second floor of our building, working with a refugee from Nepal who is also deaf. This man doesn’t speak English, but Ron is trying to help him learn the letters of the alphabet so that he can begin to communicate in his new country. I watched as Ron tried to teach him the letter “D,” showing him over and over again how to hold his fingers. I thought, “Well, it’s happening: the Kingdom of Heaven is coming to Richmond, Virginia, right here, right now, in this little room on the second floor of First Baptist Church. One person is taking the time to share his gifts with another person.”

That’s all there is to it, really, and anyone can do it. What’s your gift? And how can you share it in a way that brings heaven to earth?

KOH2RVA: Day 43

I spent some time with these GA’s (Girls in Action) on Wednesday night as they decorated water bottles with the words “God loves you.” They were working on a mission project called “Pure Water, Pure Love.”

According to the Woman’s Missionary Union website, “Since 1997 the WMU has been meeting one of the most basic human needs of missionaries through Pure Water, Pure Love. The goal of this ministry is to provide missionaries and the people they serve with clean drinking water, free from disease-causing microorganisms, at no cost to them.”

So, here were these girls on a Wednesday night at First Baptist Church, having fun and working to raise money so that little girls in Africa (for example) could have clean drinking water. And that’s the thing about bringing heaven to earth: often when you’re doing it for others it happens for you.

See you in church!

KOH2RVA: Day 42

Thankfully, while I’m inside working on tomorrow’s sermon, God is outside bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

Yay, God!

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Photo of Sarah Jarrell by Jason Collins (viewed on his Flickr photostream)

KOH2RVA: Day 41

I had coffee with Chris Backert yesterday morning.

Thursday is my day off, but Chris and I hadn’t been able to work out any other time and the idea of having coffee at Starbucks with a missional church strategist didn’t sound like something I would hate. In fact, it sounded like something I would want to do.

Plus, Chris is a really nice guy.

We started talking about the decline of the church in America these days and the recent statistics suggesting that twenty percent of Americans claim no religious affiliation at all, a number that has grown by five percent in just the last five years. That means that in the last five years roughly fifteen million people have stopped saying they are Baptist, or Catholic, or whatever. Now they just say they “unaffiliated.”

The evidence is everywhere.

Church attendance in America is falling off at an alarming rate. While some 40 percent of Americans say they go to church, the truth is that on any given Sunday the number of people in the pews is less than half of that. In fact the latest statistics suggest that only 17 percent of the population is in church on Sunday.

It wasn’t like that fifty years ago, and the people who can remember how things were fifty years ago—when about half of all Americans went to church—are anxious. That anxiety often expresses itself in hurtful ways. I talked with a pastor last week who had been forced out of his church, not because he wasn’t preaching the gospel but because he wasn’t filling the pews, or, more truthfully, because he hadn’t figured out a way to make it 1962 again.

I told Chris I thought that kind of institutional anxiety is just beneath the surface in most of the churches in America these days, and that many of them keep hiring and firing pastors in the hope that they can find the one who will “pack them in,” just like they did back in the good old days. I told him the church in America seems to be going through the stages of grief Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described so many years ago: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. And that’s when he began to tell me about the church in England.

The church in England has already worked its way through those stages. These days less than 17 percent of the population in Great Britain can say “I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it” and only about three or four percent of the population goes to church. In other words, Christians in the U.K. have had to accept the fact that the church as it once existed in that country is dead, and rather than try to merely resuscitate it, they are trying to resurrect it in new and different forms.

And that’s what Chris wanted to talk to me about: not just another way to boost church attendance, but ways of thinking about God’s mission that may not look like church at all, what Chris and his friends in England are calling “Fresh Expressions.”

I don’t have time to tell you everything we talked about yesterday, but here’s a link to Fresh Expressions in the U.K., and another to Fresh Expressions in the U.S. If you have some time take a look, and then tell me what you think by leaving a comment below. This is a conversation we need to continue as we think about how to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

KOH2RVA: Day 40

I had lunch with Travis Collins yesterday.

Travis is the Senior Pastor of Bon Air Baptist Church, a church I’ve been hearing about since my arrival in Richmond some four-and-a-half years ago. Even then people were talking about Bon Air’s innovation, about its new multi-site strategy that was extending the reach of the church well beyond its main campus. Travis Collins was getting a lot of the credit, and as I’ve gotten to know him I’ve learned that his reputation as an innovator is well-deserved. Yesterday he was telling me about a possible collaboration with another congregation in town that needs the boost in energy Bon Air could provide.

And speaking of collaboration….

I told Travis about KOH2RVA, the year-long, every-member mission trip First Baptist Church is on. I told him I was recruiting partners who could help us bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. I asked if Bon Air would be interested in that kind of partnership. “Absolutely,” he said, and then told me about a ministry called “Streetwalking” that Valerie Carter, Associate Pastor for Glocal Missions, is heading up. I wrote to Valerie yesterday afternoon, asking if she could tell me more. Here’s what she said:

Travis Collins

In this ministry we walk, pray and engage those whom we meet in what is known as the “prostitution zones” of our city (Jefferson Davis Highway and Chamberlayne Avenue). Our intention is to meet and engage women in prostitution but we share with all those that we meet on any given night. Many of the prostitutes are men in drag. We ask of their well-being, and remind each of them of God’s love for them. We offer a listening ear, share a prayer, and give a list of resources to call for help or to “get out” if ever needed. These resources include safe houses, domestic violence hotlines, NorthStar and more.

This is an emerging ministry, flexible and open to change as we don’t have all of the answers but we do know that our aim is to be salt and light along the way. We do not tote Bibles, preach hellfire and brimstone, or give out gospel tracts. This population has been beat up, abused, and oppressed in most cases and we have been told over and over again by prostitutes that our way of being church to them is “not the church that we know,” but they are coming to know us and beginning to trust us. I have had to un-invite some who go with us due to their judgmental approaches.

Valerie Carter

Our schedule is every third Friday night from 10 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. We leave the Buford Road Campus (of Bon Air Baptist Church) at 10:30 p.m. and the time between 10:00 and 10:30 is reserved for prayer and orientation. For those who have come before it is not necessary to be there exactly at 10 but before 10:30.

This ministry is not for everyone, obviously, but I’m glad we have a partner like Bon Air Baptist Church, and friends like Travis and Valerie who are willing to go where the love of Christ is needed most.

If you think this ministry might be for you all you have to do is show up at the Buford Road campus of Bon Air Baptist Church on the third Friday night of each month at 10:00. This month the third Friday night is tomorrow night, October 19. Just tell Travis and Valerie that you’re there to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

They’ll know what you’re talking about.