KOH2RVA: Day 178

winterYesterday morning at staff meeting we talked about whether or not to cancel our regular Wednesday evening activities this week.  It was a tough call.  None of the forecasters could agree on what the weather was going to be.  Some said we could get eight inches of snow.  Others said it would only be rain.  Eventually I asked, “What do we lose if we cancel Wednesday evening activities?”

We don’t lose money (Wednesday night suppers break even on a good night, and we don’t take up an offering at our Wednesday evening services), but we do lose choir rehearsals, discipleship classes, youth and children’s programs, worship, and one of the most important things of all: fellowship.

What happens around the tables at Wednesday night supper is essential to the life of our community.  We need some un-programmed time to talk with each other, laugh with each other, and tell the story of our day.  For many of our members who live alone, it is an essential mid-week boost.

I’ve quoted Gary Gunderson before, an expert on faith and health, but look at what he says about the effects of a faith community on health:

“Medical science has noticed that over a life span, people who have a faith community—not just a faith, but a faith community, a local congregation—it is as healthy for that person as smoking is unhealthy,” he said.

Because it’s not just fellowship we share around the tables: it’s love and concern.  We pray for each other, check up on each other, and when we’re sick we take each other casseroles.

The leading cause of death in the U.S. is almost a tie between an unhealthy diet and smoking. But according to Gunderson, if you ask the opposite question, “What is the leading cause of life?’ the data says the answer is “participation in a community of faith.”

We eventually decided to call off our regular Wednesday evening activities this week, but we didn’t do it lightly.  We knew that if we didn’t call it off some people would fight their way through those 1-2 inches of snow just to be at church, and someone might skid sideways in the road, or slip and fall in the parking lot.  We didn’t want to run that risk.  But Gary Gunderson helps me understand there is another risk out there, one that many people don’t consider, and that is the risk of not participating regularly in a community of faith.

I hope you will help me get that word out.  Maybe you could do it tonight when you’re not at church.  Call some people, post on Facebook, write some letters, send some emails.  Tell people that participating in a community of faith is as good for their health as smoking is bad.  And then, on Sunday, when it’s supposed to be 64 degrees and sunny in Richmond,

Come to church.

KOH2RVA: Day 79

Last week I had lunch at the Richmond Academy of Medicine.

It’s not the kind of place that usually comes to mind when you think of lunch, but it turned out to be perfect for what was on the agenda—making Richmond the healthiest city in America.

Dr. Terry Whipple, who founded the Physician Within program at First Baptist Church, has bigger plans. He wants to see the program expand to other congregations in the city, to other neighborhoods, until everybody in Metropolitan Richmond “understands common health issues and adjusts their lifestyles for longer, safer, healthier existence.” He asked me to reach out to some of my fellow clergy and invite them to lunch, so he could tell them about the program first hand and invite them to participate.

If you’re not familiar with the Physician Within, take a moment to skim the video above, from a session called “Chest Pain: Is It My Heart?” You’ll see that it’s not a complicated concept: a respected cardiologist talking to lay people about heart health and how they can stay out of the emergency room. You can also see that a good many people were interested enough to come out on a Tuesday night and hear what he had to say. It didn’t hurt that the program was—and remains—absolutely free.

My colleagues were interested. They could see how welcome such a program would be in their own churches. But when Richard Szucs, president of the Academy and member of First Baptist Church, began to talk about the 1,700 medical professionals who are members of the Academy and how they might participate, we all began to see the potential. Hundreds of congregations, hundreds of medical professionals, coming together to make Richmond “the healthiest city in America.”

When Terry Whipple first said it I thought he was just being grandiose, but now I don’t think he was. I think he simply has Kingdom-sized dreams, and he’s waiting for the rest of us to catch up.  We took a small step forward last week.  Maybe, by the time this year-long, every-member mission trip is over, we will have taken giant strides toward that ambitious goal.


Please see my posts about churches working with hospitals to keep people healthy from Day 45 and Day 46.  It feels like momentum is building.

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?