Seminary Partners to Heal the Sick

Wesley Theological Seminary’s new commitment to collaborative health ministry in the nation’s capital

by Tom Pruski

Wesley Theological Seminary has a long history of equipping people for serving in ministry. A new program, called Heal the Sick, serves as a catalyst to support current congregational health networks and develop new ones in the greater Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland, region.

The program is based on several faith and health best-practice models, including the Memphis model in Tennessee, and is directed from Wesley Downtown, the seminary’s satellite location positioned at Massachusetts Avenue and K Street in the heart of Washington, DC.

Through Heal the Sick, Wesley partners with congregations, primary care practitioners, hospitals, businesses, professional groups, local and federal governments, and others to improve overall health, decrease health disparities, and address social determinants of health. The program supports health ministries in congregations and healthcare providers in order to reduce health disparities. In particular the program reaches out to the poor to improve the health of those in greatest need.

The new program draws on Wesley’s educational mission, its connections in the region, its research expertise, and its ability to add resources to the congregational network’s development process. As an institution of higher education, the school shares the public policy goals of lowering healthcare costs while simultaneously improving the quality of health and longevity of life for all, and reducing health disparities for low-income communities and people of color that result from limited access to healthcare.

Wesley students in the Missional Fellows and Urban Fellows programs support this effort by meeting with congregational health leaders to identify assets and evaluate priority areas of need. The Heal the Sick team developed a research tool to assist congregations in assessing their health and ministry vitality by rating and measuring their relationships and health activities in reference to health ministry best practices. Interviews help congregations reflect on their current internal and external ministries as well as their relationships with community resources. After each interview, Wesley students provide a report to help a congregation consider ways to improve coordination among ministries or develop new ways to address needs.

In addition to the congregational interviews, Heal the Sick offers congregational leaders, both lay and ordained, a variety of educational opportunities. These include introductory faith and health workshops and faith community nurse and health minister certificate programs. The 35-hour faith community nurse certificate uses the Church Health Center’s Foundations in Faith Community Nursing curriculum, and the 20-hour health minister certificate uses the Health Ministries Association’s “The Health Minister Role: Foundational and Curriculum Elements” as the basis of its curriculum. Currently it is the only seminary that is also a Church Health Center educational partner, and one of the first pilot programs in the United States to use the HMA curriculum elements as the structure for educating health ministers.

Partnering with one area hospital, Heal the Sick is in the early stages of creating an outcome measure in the hospital’s medical record system to note congregations that have organized health ministries. The measure will assess and track patients to see if they have better health outcomes than congregations who do not have an organized health ministry. Heal the Sick is working closely with other healthcare providers in the region to coordinate these providers’ faith community outreach with their neighboring area hospitals so congregations will not be overwhelmed with multiple hospital-based faith outreach requests.

In all these efforts, Wesley seeks to leverage its institutional assets and collaborative, trusting relationships with partner institutions and faith leaders to create communities of health and healing.

Tagged under:

Share on: