Wheels of Wellness

Exploring faith-based healthy living models in Living Compass, the Model for Healthy Living, and the Lutheran Wholeness Wheel

by Susan Martins Miller

“Cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you,’” Jesus said to his followers before sending them out into the towns where he himself intended to go (Luke 10:9).

In Jesus’ ministry, healing and well-being were closely connected with the kingdom and presence of God. In the twentieth century, the last half in particular, people of faith have tended to follow the trend of the general culture in the US and separate a medical or scientific approach to health from a spiritual context. More recently, though, more and more congregations and denominations are bringing faith and health back together. This has resulted in a number of helpful models for faith-based healthy living that sees modern medicine as a part of overall whole-life wellness rather than the definition of health in itself.

Three models in particular are gaining traction. All are based in circular images that remind us God created us to be whole human beings—and whole communities—rather than unconnected bits and pieces.

The Living Compass

The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner has spent 30 years as psychotherapist, spiritual director, and priest in the Episcopal Church. He used to think that his years of professional work qualified him as an expert on helping people seek wholeness. Now he says, “I learned that when people feel genuinely supported and listened to, they can almost always name for themselves the changes they need to make to bring greater wholeness and wellness to their lives.” In his work as priest and psychotherapist, Stoner noticed that people often expressed interest in continuing for more sessions even after addressing initial goals because they wanted to continue to become more fully alive.

The Living Compass, and the Living Compass Faith and Wellness ministry cofounded by Scott Stoner and Holly Hughes Stoner, resulted from this insight. Grounded in Scripture and the tradition of the church, Living Compass is a faith-based wellness ministry that returns Christians to their roots. Stoner likes to remind people that the word wholeness comes from the same root as the words holy and holiness. Using the compass, which hearkens the biblical command to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength, allows Christians to check their bearings. Areas of life that may need to be realigned, according to the compass, are emotions, relationships, care for the body, stress, vocation, organization, rest and play, and spirituality.

Stoner sees the church as the “original wellness center.” Faithful congregations can offer a lifelong supportive community for all their members, not just the ones who seek out individual counseling. The truths of faith are connected to physical and emotional wellness.

The Living Compass works as a tool for wellness ministry in congregational settings by providing structure and meaningful programming that empower members to engage in issues of whole-person wellness—all in the context of how their faith supports a journey toward greater wellness. Living Compass provides resources, coaching and training to help adults, parents, families, and teens experience wellness of the whole self—heart, soul, strength, and mind. Faith becomes a compass for seeking God’s presence and finding God’s Spirit in the nitty-gritty experiences of stress, work, and relationships alongside the more common ways we might think of to care for the body. Carrying out this ministry in the context of congregations underscores the truth that we cannot be whole on our own; we need the support of others. Traveling the journey with others enables us to make changes in thought, word and deed that will improve overall well-being.

Living Compass offers training to individuals to become Certified Congregational Wellness Advocates (CWA). Both clergy and laypersons may attend, and a background in health and wellness is not required. Participants receive training in educational, small group, coaching and retreat resources for adults, teens, parents and families. When possible, Living Compass encourages congregations to send several people to be trained.

In April 2012, Ab and Nancy Nicholas made a large donation that impacted the work of Living Compass by providing a shared gift of $10 million to the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and Living Compass to create the Nicholas Center at St. James Commons in downtown Chicago. Repurposing attic space of the diocesan building just off the Magnificent Mile, the Nicholas Center was developed to serve as organizational headquarters for Living Compass and to offer dedicated wellness training for a reasonable cost—$300 includes all meals, accommodations and training materials. The Nicholas Center hosted its first Congregational Wellness Advocate training in 2014. The Beecken Center at the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, has also hosted Living Compass training events, which last for two full days and two half days.

In addition to training events, Living Compass offers practical resources to support health and wellness ministry in congregations. These include weekly “Words of Wellness” for newsletters or adult education; pamphlets to frame four-week adult classes on topics such as grief and loss, forgiveness, aging well, and healthy relationships; Adult Faith & Wellness, a six-week program that can be used in general adult education formats or targeted small group settings; and daily readings for the seasons of Advent and Lent, booklets newly created each year with readings to connect Scripture to a life of wellness.

The Model for Healthy Living

Since it first opened its doors in 1987, Church Health in Memphis, Tennessee, has been committed to care of the whole person in body and spirit. Along with a medical clinic, essential services included pastoral counseling, social work and basic exercise equipment. As the ministry expanded and developed, an 80,000-square foot wellness facility housed a range of services for whole-person care. Church Health sought a visual representation that would depict the whole-person care they were providing to patients and members of the wellness facility. Out of this desire grew the Model for Healthy Living.

In 2008 Jenny Bartlett-Prescott, now senior director of integrated health, chaired a working group that gathered representatives of Church Health’s nutrition, medical, spiritual care, counseling, social work and movement staff. This cross-disciplinary team developed the Model for Healthy Living as a unifying tool that expressed Church Heath’s approach to supporting individuals in Memphis who wanted to move toward greater wellness.

The Model for Healthy Living serves as a visual reminder that joy or pain in one dimension of our lives inevitably affects other dimensions. Even many medical conditions may result from circumstances we might not consider medical in nature. A balanced life examines what is going on not just medically but in all areas of daily living. Faith life means building a relationship with God, others and self. Movement means discovering ways to enjoy physical activity. Work means appreciating individual skills, talents, and gifts. Emotional life means managing stress and understanding feelings for better self-care. Nutrition means making smart choices and developing healthy eating habits. Family and friends means giving and receiving support through relationships. All of these things happen alongside the medical dimension, which includes partnering with a health care provider to manage medical issues.

Originally the Model was a way to talk with new patients of the clinic and Memphis residents who used the services of Church Health Wellness, which includes a teaching kitchen, children’s programming, support groups, and health coaches in addition to exercise opportunities. Health coaches, nurses and doctors could scan answers to a few simple questions and have an idea of how open an individuals was to talking about faith and how ready the person might be to make changes to improve wellness. In 2012, Michaelia (Mike) Sturdivant, now senior director of reach programs, led the effort to further pursue a model of integrated health across the varied initiatives of Church Health, both on site and in the community. This approach sees the person as a whole, not simply as a clinical case, and acknowledges that nonmedical issues may contribute to the reasons patients seek care. It also recognizes that some of the most effective preventive measures happen long before someone comes to the doctor. Community partners, who see people in their everyday settings, play a valuable role in a holistic approach to health.

In this context, the Model for Healthy Living began to move beyond the walls of Church Health. A longstanding program to train lay people as congregational health promoters in their faith communities incorporated the Model. Perea Preschool, a charter school run by Church Health in a public school building, introduces the Model to parents and children. The Model also helps raise awareness of the interconnectedness of health at community events, such as “Walking for One,” a 1.5-mile walk and community health fair in Memphis.

With plans to expand the Model to communities outside of Memphis, the Church Health’s magazine, Church Health Reader, organized the spring 2013 edition around the Model for Healthy Living and its application to congregational settings. Each of the seven aspects of the Model was explored through a profile of a congregation working intentionally in that area. For instance, an exercise program at a Lutheran church in Colorado demonstrated “Movement”; a job-training program at an urban Catholic church in Philadelphia addressed “Work.” Each featured program included tips and suggestions to benefit other congregations. This series of short articles won the 2014 Award of Excellence for Personal Useful Article from the Associated Church Press.

The following year, Church Health published The Model for Healthy Living: Introduction with Reflections, a booklet designed to make the Model for Healthy Living available as a personal tool for anyone, anywhere. For each of the seven topics, the booklet includes a Scripture focus and biblical reflection, self-assessment, thought starters, and ideas for taking action. Both individuals and small groups can use the booklet effectively.

The Model for Healthy living has grown into the organizing structure for the new Church Health Reader website. All content on the site is classified under one of the seven primary categories. In addition, the updated layout of the printed version of Church Health Reader includes a Model Moments section to provide tips, book reviews and interviews for each category.

A tool for better individual care has become a tool for better organization of the strengths Church Health has to offer.

The Wholeness Wheel

In 1997, the InterLutheran Coordination Committee on Ministerial Health and Wellness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod developed the Wholeness Wheel to aid in understanding the complexity of health and wellness. An essential feature of the Wholeness Wheel is that it holds at its center the belief that in baptism, God offers new life in Christ and welcomes the baptized into the community of faith. Baptism turns the wheel, and various dimensions of health are expressed in the context of spiritual well-being. God’s grace is the force behind health and wellness journeys because God is present in every aspect of well-being.

A few years later, the Wholeness Wheel became central to Lutheran leaders as it lifted up ways that healthy leaders enhance lives. Since 2004 Tammy Devine, a registered nurse and a diaconal minister in the ELCA, has served as wellness coordinator for Portico Benefit Services (formerly the ELCA Board of Pensions). She is tasked with helping Lutheran leaders understand the Wholeness Wheel in their own lives and through them reach congregations. The Wholeness Wheel has become part of the candidacy manual for individuals in the process of becoming leaders in the ELCA. The Wholeness Wheel helps Christians in particular become whole people of God and helps then fulfill the calling of their baptism.

Social and interpersonal well-being acknowledges God created us to be social beings in community with others. Emotional well-being means feeling the range of human emotions but expressing them appropriately. Physical well-being reminds us to honor our bodies as gifts from God. Vocational well-being encourages us to appreciate all the gifts God gives and be faithful stewards of lives of meaning, purpose, and service. Intellectual well-being challenges us to be curious and keep learning, but also to recognize when we need to rest our minds. Financial well-being, the final category added to the Wholeness Wheel, helps us demonstrate healthy values in the ways we save, spend, and share our resources. All of this is within the outer rim of the wheel, the things we do to nurture spiritual well-being in personally meaningful ways.

Devine explains that the Wholeness Wheel does not have the spokes many people might expect in a wheel image. Instead of being distinctly separated from each other by lines or spokes, the wellness areas on the Wheel are intentionally blurred together at the edges as a reminder that improving well-being in one area is likely to also impact another area. For instance, walking for physical health may also be an occasion for social or interpersonal wellness, or an opportunity for prayer.

The Wholeness Wheel works as an assessment tool for clergy, congregations, and individuals in their homes. While Devine’s work targets ELCA leaders, the intention is to grow the conversation about wellness more widely by helping leaders embrace the need for their own wellness and influence entire congregations to explore what it means to live as whole people of God.

“Bishops are taking the Wholeness Wheel when they meet with leaders,” Devine said in a 2010 interview with John Shorb of Church Health Reader. “It becomes an assessment tool. It’s also used for new parents in counseling around baptism. It’s an illustration as to their role as parents and sponsors to help this child be raised as a whole person of God.”

A frequent conference speaker, Devine also writes a column entitled, “That You May Be Well,” which gives regular encouragement to readers on issues of wholeness. Journey for Renewal™ is an intensive year-long wellness experience for ELCA leaders and church workers. It combines opening and closing retreats with small group coaching by telephone.

In a culture that encourages us to rely on different kinds of specialists for the different dimensions of our lives, it is easy to forget to see ourselves as whole beings—the way God sees us. The Wholeness Wheel brings everything together in the essential question of how we go about living well in Christ. Churches have an opportunity to reclaim healing ministry in the fullest understanding of the term by helping people to align faith and health as whole persons.

Each of these three models has specific application to congregational settings, embodying the truth that the kingdom of God has come near not just to the congregations the models reach but to the communities around them. God created us as whole persons and calls us to live in wholeness, asking not only how we might experience greater wellness as individuals but also how together we can bring greater wellness to our society and world.

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