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 what happens in their bodies.

Penrose-St. Francis Health Services created a pilot program with six local churches in six different denominations. Penrose-St. Francis vice president of mission integration Larry Seidl says, “Our goal is promoting the health of the community or church by addressing spiritual well-being as a critical element of an individual’s health.”

To set the stage, the pastor or priest launched the program by preaching on health from a spiritual perspective. Then Penrose-St. Francis faith community nurse Cynthia Wacker (RN, MSN/Ed, FCN) engaged the congregation with an active participation tool. She used a survey of 14 lifestyle questions, inquiring about issues such as fear, forgiveness, relationships and stress. For each question, a range of answers appeared on the screen. People attending worship that morning held in their hands electronic devices that allowed them to anonymously choose the answer that best described them. After ten seconds, the pattern of results displayed on a screen.

“When congregations see the aggregate answers in the worship service, often there are audible gasps as the connection is made regarding corporate human and spiritual issues,” says Cynthia Wacker. “Realization dawns that on that Sunday morning at 10:45, 20 people out of the 200 present identify loneliness as their top health care issue.”

The results were eye-opening for both leaders and church attenders, who could instantly see which themes the most people identified with, and how church attenders perceived that these issues affected their health. Based on these results, church leaders could develop ministries and programs to address the needs of a particular congregation or engage them in a renewed emphasis in current programs. Penrose-St. Francis provides a toolkit with suggestions on incorporating health issues into Bible studies, Sunday school classes, newsletters, and sermons as well as wellness coaching with health professionals. The actual survey takes about ten minutes on a Sunday morning, but the seed that is planted is far reaching.

The next step was to take the program, now called the Church Health Project of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, beyond Colorado Springs. In other locations, churches can administer the opening spiritual well-being survey through an Internet tool that sorts and organizes the results. Congregations bear no cost for participating in the Church Health Project.





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