Christians promote a comprehensive experience of health and healing. In this they follow Christ, who spent much of his time amidst the people curing diseases, bringing reconciliation and subverting the powers of oppression. Throughout the following 2000 years, the Church established and maintained hospices and hospitals to offer compassionate care to the sick. Yet this comprehensive ministry is now more detached from the medical establishment. Faith has settled into the private sphere and no longer seems present nor believed to be helpful in the places in which the sick are cared for.
The conference was organised by the Anglican Health Network, and presented something unique. It gave people a chance to see who else is working in the areas they are working in, to team up and share resources. This was a chance to discuss what the churches role is and how we can best use that role to benefit the communities we serve. An opportunity was created for health professionals, church leaders, chaplains and charities working in areas of health to gather and talk about the churches role within communities, concerning health.
It was a fascinating conference, and I confess, I felt significantly out of my depth intellectually. However, it was a time to gather and network, to create an environment in which Christians could discuss what they can do to help improve the health of the communities around them.
Livability contributed to the conference with two seminars, one discussing Dementia Friendly Churches, where Trevor Adams and I spoke to a group of people about how we can go about creating churches in which those with dementia are welcomed and valued for the unique gifts they bring.
Andy Parnham talked about the Happiness Course, a course that has been developed to help and encourage individuals to look at what it means to live a happy life and the health benefits this can have.
Others spoke on mental health issues, chaplaincy, parish nursing, the use of language within health and many more topics.
One speaker, Professor John Hull spoke on the theology of disability. As a blind man, he spoke of how exclusive much of the language you encounter in both the bible and our own language in church is. Speaking of Amazing Grace, he asked what our reaction would be if the first verse said ‘was black but now is white’ rather than ‘was blind but now I see’.
This prompts us to think and discuss how we speak. Not everyone will agree with what he says, but how we speak is powerful, our words can have a huge effect on the individuals around us. How we speak of illnesses, disabilities and individuals can have an enormous effect on how welcome they feel as part of the community.
This in particular was one of the things I took away from this conference. How can we serve our community in a truly inclusive way, whilst ensuring that we neither water down the gospel, nor lose our integrity?
How do we make sure that those with abilities other than our own, those with disabilities or disadvantage are a welcome and serving member of our community, and at no point are made to feel that their contribution is any less valued than our own?
And finally, how can the church work to become a health resource to the community in a time of increasing cuts and need?
I came away with the understanding that we as a church, have a huge amount to offer. I am left wondering how we use that resource most effectively to answer the question – what is the churches role in Health and Healing?