2014 Top 10 Articles – Editor’s Picks

by Stacy Smith

It’s the end of 2014, the start of the New Year – and the season of Top 10 lists! Of course, Church Health Reader is no exception. We have had a wonderful 2014 with lots of success to celebrate. After 7 years, we finally have a brand new website and a new logo. We have also expanded the print […]


Addiction and Surrender

Q&A with Harold Koenig

by John Shorb

Harold G. Koenig, M.D. and professor at Duke University Medical Center, spoke with Church Health Reader about the power of addiction and how spirituality factors into recovery. He is the author of Religion, Spirituality and Medicine: Where Science and Spirituality Meet and The Healing Power of Faith as well as co-author of Counseling Persons with Addictions: A […]

Rock On

Music helped the Rev. John Kilzer beat his addiction. Now he’s paying it forward.

by John Klyce Minervini

John Kilzer is hard to miss. At six-foot-six and bone-thin, he’s like a human lightning rod. His face, angular and careworn, seems to have come a long way—and no wonder. Kilzer has squeezed more life into his 57 years than most of us could fit into 100. First he was a jock. Growing up in […]

Hymn of Healing: In Our Hearts and Neighborhoods

Tune: Royal Oak

by Deborah Patterson

Health ministry leaders are gardeners, sowing seeds of peace, healing and hope in communities across the world, for people of all ages. The Church is not called just to serve its own, but to reach out beyond the doors of the sanctuary to lonely neighbors, children and struggling youth. This hymn reminds us that as […]

Book Review

Beyond Accessibility

Toward Full Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Faith Communities

reviewed by Jeno Smith

Jill is from Massachusetts and lived with a mental illness. She was told by a pastor not to attend a certain congregation anymore because she answered all the questions in the children’s sermon, told people loudly how much she put in the offering, and ate most of the doughnuts during fellowship. Yet no one ever […]

Hymn of Healing: Christ, Heal Me Twice

Tune: Finlandia

by Stacy Smith

This hymn began with a strange and overlooked passage found only in the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 8:22-25, we read the story of a miraculous healing with quite an outcome. Jesus heals a blind man, and after he touches the man’s eyes, the man says that he can see people – but these people […]

Book Review

Help and Hope

Disaster Preparedness and Response Tools for Congregations

reviewed by Brianna Wagner

Help and Hope, assembled and edited by Amy Gopp and Brandon Gilvin, is an anthology of personal stories and advice from people of faith about their experiences with disasters. A number of stories come out of communities that have experienced recent natural disasters, from Hurricane Katrina to Super-storm Sandy, as well as man-made tragedies, such […]

Book Review

Health Ministries

A Primer for Clergy and Congregations

reviewed by Brianna Wagner

In Health Ministries, Deborah L. Patterson lays out a comprehensive guide to all that congregations have to gain from parish nursing. She begins with a history of health ministries, starting with Granger Westberg’s belief that the church is meant to “preach, teach, and heal.” At the time, Westberg was concerned about the increasing isolation and […]

Chronic Neurologic Conditions and the Church

by Bill Holmes

And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison or neurologically or cognitively impaired or autistic or epileptic or…? And the king will answer them. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:39-40 […]

Going to a Thin Place

Pilgrimage as a Sacred Practice

by Stacy Smith

For many, traveling has become a difficult and expensive process. We have anxiety about leaving our homes in the care of neighbors. Some say that traveling puts you at greater risk for disease and illness, and we might be anxious about flight delays and airline security. When it comes to travel, we might think the […]

Meeting God on the Mountain

Boone United Hiking Trail in Boone, NC

by Brianna Wagner

The idea for the Boone United Hiking Trail began two years ago and 7,000 miles away. Rev. John Fitzgerald was the senior pastor of Boone United Methodist and part of a ministry in Korea. An important Korean Christian practice involves traveling up a “prayer mountain,” where worshippers light candles, build shrines and pray. The church […]

A Chaplain’s Prayer for the ER

by Bill Holmes

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. (Psalm 139:1-2a) You know when I am doing chest compressions or when I am holding the hand of a frightened patient. You know when I am encountering a difficult family or when I am comforting […]

Book Review

Practicing Care in Rural Congregations and Communities

reviewed by Isabella Basco

In the United States, more than 80% of the people live in cities … However, more than 80% of the land is rural land. Most of the churches in the US are in small towns and rural communities. Health in rural communities is treated differently than in urban areas. Small towns and their close-knit environments […]

Laughing to Healing

How a pastor’s gaffe brought healing to a traumatized congregation

by Teri Thomas

In December 1996, the pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, and his wife were brutally murdered in their home. The couple’s bodies were found beside their Christmas tree, bound with ropes and beaten with an ax.  A 16-year-old boy, a member of the church youth group, was eventually charged and found guilty. The […]


Stronger Together: Research Tips

Q&A with Lance Laird

by Stacy Smith

Lance Laird is assistant professor of family medicine at Boston University and assistant director of the Boston Healing Landscape Project, a program for the study of cultural, therapeutic and religious pluralism. Church Health Reader spoke with him about the importance of research partnerships and how congregations can better partner with research institutions. Stacy Smith: Why […]

Growing an International Garden

They have come from Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and other countries all over the world, but they are all growing in Texas. That is, they are growing mustard, cilantro, peppers and yard-long beans, while also growing connections to each other and their new home. With their refugee neighbors, St. Francis Episcopal Church is growing in relationship […]

Stronger Together

Partnerships in Health Ministry

by Stacy Smith

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” -Romans 12:4–5 We, who are many, are one body in Christ. Paul’s vision of the body of Christ in […]

Two Are Better Than One

Working Together

by Scott Morris

I am not afraid to ask for help. This is not because I can’t make a decision—I make countless important decisions every day. But as the book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil” (4:9). This verse appears in a passage that acknowledges that […]

The Way of Complacency

by Susan Palwick

Christians spend much of Lent meditating on Jesus’ Way of the Cross, the sufferings leading to his death. We imagine ourselves being condemned, carrying our crosses, falling under our burdens. But on Good Friday, we are called to do something else: to reflect on our roles, not as the tormented Christ, but as his executioners. […]

Send in the Clowns!

Liturgical and caring clowns bring humor and healing to congregations

by R. Alex Chamberlain

Some people can’t abide clowns. They find them frightening, creepy, or so plain weird that they can’t make a connection to the character who stands before them. My wife is one of these people. She remembers the clowns at the circus falling down, appearing to get hurt, and looking for an opportunity to make fun […]


Making Health Ministry Work

5 Questions with Kirsten Peachey

by Stacy Smith

Rev. Dr. Kirsten Peachey is the director of Congregational Health Partnerships at Advocate Health Care and codirector of The Center for Faith and Community Health Transformation in Chicago, IL. Church Health Reader asked her 5 questions about health ministry. Stacy Smith: Why is health ministry important in the church? Kirsten Peachey: Health ministry is really just […]

Knee Deep in Ashes

by Ashley-Anne Masters

The morning after a parade is never pretty. The flowers are wilted, there is candy in the streets, random clothing is strewn about, and the trash is just waiting to be picked up. The Monday after the Palm Sunday parade was no different. Sure, the donkey had been returned to his rightful owner, but there […]


Living Prepared

How congregations can prepare for “Help and Hope” in the midst of disaster

reviewed by Brianna Wagner

Help and Hope: Disaster Preparedness and Response Tools for Congregations is an anthology of personal stories and advice from people of faith about their experiences with disasters. Assembled and edited by Amy Gopp and Brandon Gilvin, a number of stories come out of communities that have experienced recent natural disasters, from Hurricane Katrina to Super-storm […]


Confessions of a Doubter

by Bill Holmes

“Miracle—An event that is considered unusual or extraordinary in that it appears to be contrary to what is currently known of nature. Theologically, the emphasis is on what God has revealed through this event, as in the miracles of Jesus.”   —Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms “What is to one man a coincidence is to another […]

Fearing Death, Dying Alone

by Bill Holmes

He was for most of his 101 years a loving and beloved Methodist pastor. His wife of 50-plus years had died long ago. His bride of 19 years now sat stoically beside his bed, almost as if she did not appreciate the gravity of the situation. He had sustained a right brain stroke that in […]

Creating Communion, Creating Community

Making Homemade Grape Juice for Communion

by Stacy Smith

The congregation still talks about that time when the Rev. Mieke Vandersall brought her homemade juice to the communion table. “I had been canning grape jam and had a little bit left over so I followed a recipe and made grape juice. I brought it to the service the next night and really, it’s amazing. […]


Blessed by the Presence of God

Liturgy for Occassional Services

reviewed by Stacy Smith

The Rev. Russell Mitman felt called to develop his own healing liturgies after a medical doctor in his congregation asked for a service for healing. Along with an insightful history of healing liturgies in the modern Protestant church, Mitman includes a chapter entitled “Anointing for Healing” as one of several categories of occasional services that […]

Book Review

Women’s Uncommon Prayers

Our Lives Revealed, Nurtured, Celebrated

reviewed by Stacy Smith

The book Women’s Uncommon Prayers is very much that – a large selection of beautiful and unusual prayers that cover a spectrum of issues. While all of the authors are women, and there are prayers for specific life events that only affect women, this book offers several prayers and short liturgies that can be useful […]

Book Review

Prayers and Ideas for Healing Services

reviewed by Stacy Smith

Ian Cowie reflects on more than 60 years of ministry in this interesting and thought-provoking book on healing. Most notably, Cowie is acutely aware of the awesome and perhaps frightening power of God’s healing. He does not assume that services of healing will necessarily look like what we might expect in the Church of Scotland […]


Eco Faith: Creating and Sustaining Green Congregations

Book Review

reviewed by Shelby Ussery

In Charlene Hosenfeld’s Eco-Faith, sustainable communities are supported from not only an environmental argument, but also from a theological and psychological standpoint. Hosenfeld argues that in order to create and sustain green congregations, church members and leaders must take action in and around the church, including within the worship services. Many doable actions are proposed […]

What Are You Doing Here?

by Bill Holmes

Now in her eighties, her heart was failing. The only viable option: a mechanical heart valve. She weighed the risks of waking up from surgery no longer the whole person she desired to be. She declined the procedure knowing that death would soon follow. She told her physician that she was not afraid of death […]

Singing our Lives

by Stacy Smith

O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. —Psalm 96:1–2 When I was growing up, each Christmas my church held a carol sing. And each year, my father joined two other esteemed members […]

Book Review

Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God

Book Review

reviewed by Emma F. Connolly

Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God 
-by Sybil MacBeth The aptly named book, Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God, appeals to a wide audience, from preteens through adults. An easy read at around 100 pages, the primary colors of the cover and numerous illustrations inside inspire a childlike glee […]

The Robe

Glimpsing God in the Ordinary

by Bill Holmes

A few years go my gastroenterologist told me that I needed to see a surgeon. There was a lesion in my colon that needed to come out. The biopsy was negative but both the lesion’s position and my age shadowed problems ahead. I consulted an oncologist friend of mine. “Get this done. What are you […]

Hoping for a Comeback

by Bill Holmes

Nothing can save us that is possible. –W. H. Auden Several years ago I stood by the bedside of an elderly woman who was in the last minutes of her life. Her husband of sixty years and her son stood opposite me. She took a few agonal breaths then ceased all signs of life. Her […]

The One Who Walks Alongside

by Bill Holmes

Two-year-old Jonah was from one of Kentucky’s poorest counties. During his prolonged stay in the hospital for meningitis and seizures, the staff noticed that the entire family of five was at the hospital all day, every day. They ate off the patient’s dietary tray, slept on the floor, and bathed in the hospital room. When […]

Summer and Sabbath

Four ways to ponder Sabbath this season

by Scott Morris

“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” goes the old Nat King Cole song. Does that sound like your summer? The description of summer as “lazy” makes us think of picnics and swimming and ball games and a lot of other recreational activities we don’t get around to often enough. We want to […]

Compassion and Community, Not Judgment

by Bill Holmes

In the early 1980s I rendered care to a man with headaches, weight loss and extreme malaise. The initial medical and neurologic evaluation failed to yield a diagnosis, but a brain biopsy led to a diagnosis of a disease that was just beginning to be recognized in this country: HIV-AIDS. Despite being treated by the […]

Surveying Bodies and Spirits

Penrose-St. Francis Health Services in Colorado Spring, CO

by Church Health Reader Editors

The language of faith and the language of health can seem to have little in common. One is about the spirit and the other about the body—or are they? One hospital in Colorado Springs, Colorado set out to discover ways to help people in churches find the connection between what happens in their spirits and […]

Crying Out to God

What About Heaven?

by Bill Holmes

Not long ago I encountered a woman whose husband of 56 years was dying after a prolonged illness. In great anguish, she went through a period of wondering if God even heard her prayers. Gradually she accepted that death was at hand, but tearfully added, “What about heaven? Will I see my husband again in […]


The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation

reviewed by Susan Martins Miller

“The body speaks to the heart. The heart speaks to the body.” Two experienced Christian teachers of spiritual formation unpack this two-directional truth from multiple angles. Lane M. Arnold is a spiritual director and Valerie E. Hess is a retreat speaker. Both have been listening to lessons of body and spirit in their own lives […]

Into the Wilderness

by Susan Palwick

I began attending church in 1999, but remained cautious and skeptical for a number of months. Not until 2000 did my interest begin to deepen and mature, driven in large part by a series of uncanny coincidences. One of these occurred in February 2000, five days after I’d had surgery to remove my gallbladder. I’d […]

The Longest Night

A worship service where sorrow is welcome

by Stacy Smith

The sanctuary at First Congregational Church in Memphis was quiet and calm, sentiments not always common just a few days before Christmas. Alongside the memorable scent of evergreen, the church offered the everyday, plain-clothes smells of the wax and flame. Dozens of flickering candles lit the floor, the tables, and the windowsills. In the darkness, […]


Health, Wealth and the Role of the Church

Q&A with Jim Wallis

by Sarah Ranson

The president and founder of Sojourners, Jim Wallis is a New York Times bestselling author, public theologian, speaker, and international commentator on ethics and public life. Church Health Reader spoke with him about the church’s healing ministry in the midst of a contentious political society. Sarah Ranson: Jesus spoke often about poverty and you often reference the […]

Book Review

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Book Review

reviewed by Daniel Deffenbaugh

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv Richard Louv’s text is, in my estimation, the most important book written on the impact that nature has on early childhood development. Louv recounts his own experiences as a young boy whose parents allowed him to roam the fields and woods in […]

Book Review

Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality

Book Review

reviewed by Daniel Deffenbaugh

Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality by Barbara Bradley Hagerty Anytime a student says, “This is the best book I’ve ever read,” I take notice. When more than one student says it, I consider it nothing short of a miracle. Such was the case this fall when I assigned this text […]

Who Will Keep Watch Over The Flock?

by Bill Holmes

Several years ago I met Sally Jane as she walked into clinic pushing her severely impaired granddaughter in a wheelchair. Sally Jane had become Melissa’s caregiver when her mother abandoned her, no longer able to cope with the daily behavior problems and seizures. Sally Jane had only an 8th grade education, lived in a mobile […]


by Susan Palwick

I live in Nevada, the driest and sunniest state in the country. My husband and I moved to Reno in June, which meant that for weeks, we woke up to brilliant sunshine and cloudless skies. When we commented on this gorgeous weather to locals, they just shrugged and said, “Oh, it’s always like this.” Both […]