Episcopal priest Micah Jackson writes a blog called The Ministry of Health. The blog focuses on “the transformative journey of health and wellness”, especially pertaining to the church and clergy. Jackson writes:
Recent studies have found that American clergy and other spiritual leaders love their jobs more than the average worker, but that they are also less healthy than their peers in other professions. That means that though we enjoy serving God, unless we get our health act together, we won’t be able to serve as long as we’d like. And that’s a tragedy at best, sinful at worst. In any case, it’s certainly poor stewardship of the life and health God gave us.
Jackson writes in his recent blog post “When is your “health fair” unfair?” that people who are looking to pay better attention to their physical health and their spiritual health are susceptible to those looking to take advantage of them:
How it works is this: Someone from one of these companies calls the church and offers to organize a free “health fair” at which information about basic health practices will be offered, and if people want to get additional testing they would be able to do so at a discounted price. At first this sounds like a great deal, and many clergypersons are signing up their coffee hours for these health fairs. What many clergy do not realize, however, is that some of the tests on offer are wonderfully simple and highly effective, such as blood pressure or blood sugar testing, and others are not the kinds of tests that doctors generally agree are medically necessary. In some cases, the likelihood that the person has the condition being screened is very low, and in other cases, there may actually be some risks to the patient. In any case, a positive result (especially a false positive) could result in high costs of followup, not to mention the mental and emotional stress associated with the fear of a serious disease. And in some cases, these tests (no matter how inexpensive in the parish hall) would have been covered by insurance if a doctor felt they were needed.
Jackson suggest that there are ways to combat an honest look at health for the congregation with those looking only to make a buck:
1. Ask questions: If one of these companies contacts you, ask them point-blank, “Will you be disclosing to people who attend which of the tests you offer are medically indicated for them based on their age, gender, medical history, and other important factors.” If they say anything like “All these tests are safe and are indicated for anyone,” don’t work with them. I suppose that putting your hand on someone’s forehead to check if they’ve got a fever is safe and indicated for anyone, but other than that, it’s just not true….
2. Check with your parishioners who know: Most of us have parishioners who are physicians or other health professionals. If an offer like this presents itself, ask them to take a look and see if it seems legitimate. Oftentimes doctors will look the other way when they see things like this happening because they don’t want to seem territorial or like they’re stepping on their pastor’s toes. Better to benefit from their wisdom early.
3. Get a parish nurse: If you have nurses in your community, ask one of them if she or he feels called to serve as your parish nurse. This specialized combination of ministry and knowledge can keep a constant flow of good health information before your congregation. Contact the International Parish Nurse Resource Center for more information.
Jackson’s post also includes helpful links to answer some of the raised questions.
Has your congregation looked at health issues? What has worked best, and not so well?