Health Ministries: A Practice Which Stands on Holy Ground

Marlene Feagan

What exactly does it mean to stand on holy ground? When those who practice in Health Ministries stand before their parishioners/patients they are standing on holy ground; they are a caring presence to their pain, fear, loneliness and despair. The intimacy of their life’s’ issues is the gift they give to the health minister or faith community nurse. And this is not to say that only those that practice in health ministries receive this gift; all who serve others are in a position to receive this gift as well. It is with intentionality to the caring and being present to the patient’s search for meaning that the health minister allows the patient to find their own spiritual reality. That is pure gift, and the reason this ministry is such a blessing.

My health ministries practice over the past six years has taken place in several community sites. One site is “Sunday Night Live” (SNL) at Grace Campus, an urban outreach ministry of the Immanuel United Methodist Church in Ft. Mitchell, KY. On Sunday evenings, more than a dozen churches in the Northern Kentucky community partner to prepare a hot meal for the homeless in the Covington community. I am part of a Health Ministries Team who gathers at 3:30 on Sunday evenings to provide a community site health ministries program for more than 200 guests to SNL at Grace. This is an energized group of volunteer nurses and health ministers who are passionate about being a caring presence to the Grace guests. It is wonderful that they come with such enthusiasm, because the work can be challenging.

There are “regulars” who are there every Sunday evening. David is a regular; he is there every Sunday night and waits patiently for his turn to see a nurse. He is a Vietnam Veteran who has been homeless and living on the streets for 20 years. As a homeless veteran, he thinks from a street mentality. So each week, whoever is blessed by being present to David, the same story is told. The nurse will provide a listening ear; develop a care plan with David, making appropriate referrals. Each week David will have the same reaction and respond to his inability to follow through. Many creative arrangements have been made to bring in outside assistance and to make appointments that he cannot keep. But each Sunday evening, David is a blessing to the Health Ministries Team. They watch for him; look forward to serving him; pray with and for him and believe that on one Sunday David will be ready.

A twenty year old new mom came and stated she did “not want any health care”. She had another request though, could we help her learn to read? She had dropped out of school in the 9th, grade had a newborn and wanted to be able to read a book to him someday.

There is George, who now has a job, an apartment and a primary care physician. He comes each week to get his blood pressure checked; it is recorded on a piece of cardboard, so he can see how far he has come with control of his hypertension. When we met George, he did not have a medical home and was suffering from uncontrolled hypertension. We have been on the journey with him for more than three years, and he is now one of the most conscientious patients possible. George is actively engaged in his healthcare and is proud of his accomplishments.

Over the years in my health ministry practice the one thing I have learned is that holy ground is not so much a physical place but a spiritual place where we can meet and minister to those in our care. Those who work in health ministries have a strong spirituality and capacity to relate to their higher power, to other human beings and the natural world. Through these relationships, meaning is given to their experiences and their hearts and minds are attuned to the deepest dimensions of reality. Their spirituality is integral to the way in which they live their lives. It is about the kinds of persons they are and the kinds of persons they wish to become.

Ultimately, when we are involved in health ministries, we are enhancing our personal spiritual journey. Developing our spirituality is not a spectator sport. Persistent effort and tough decisions are required to grow faithfully. We need to follow through on our commitments to be conscientious, prayerful and in mutually supportive relationships with other faithful people. We also need to step out of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves to engage in activities that help us to see the world through another person’s lens. This becomes a deliberate effort to help one another grow in understanding and open doors to learning more about our faith in relevant ways.

When I think about this ministry, I can hear Barbra Streisand singing On Holy Ground from her 1997 album Higher Ground. The hymn makes reference to a presence and a place where love abounds. It also says, “And I know, I know there are angels all around”. In Health Ministries, I know that I am surrounded by angels. From the work I do for HMA, to the relationships I have developed and in the rich experiences I have had, I know that I am surrounded by angels. I see them in the faces of those who so generously work as volunteers, individuals who lead those teams of health ministers and especially those I serve.

May we in health ministries remain committed to this faithful journey. And in this commitment, we will grow as ordinary people searching together for specific ways to live out our faith. We are like a tree whose braches reach out toward the future, looking for nourishment and substance. We are surrounded in health ministries by other human beings who share our vision and our joy in the journey. We are a practice which Stands on Holy Ground.