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Ministries of Health: Our Tradition and Our Challenge Ministries of Health: Our Tradition and Our Challenge

From Interpreter Magazine

Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” –Luke 9:1-2 (NRSV)

The bishop and district superintendents of the Mississippi Conference have added a new, personal dimension to their cabinet meetings – telling stories about their own journeys toward health and wholeness.

Each time they gather, the members share prayer concerns and describe how they have been keeping a covenant with goals for exercise, nutrition, rest, spiritual renewal, relationships and congregational health.

“We enter into this covenant because we have the common purpose of obeying Jesus Christ, and because we believe we need one another’s help to do this,” the covenant says.

“Physical ailments have lessened, weight has been lost, sleep has improved,” said Mississippi Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, who asked her cabinet members to sign the covenant in May 2005. Pastors in several districts have also joined the covenant at the request of their district superintendents.

“My own spiritual journey continues to lead me toward wellness as a focus of Christ’s ministry and our share in it. Christ came healing,” said Ward, who feels the covenant is a means of joy and grace. “John Wesley saw himself as a physician of body as well as soul. This is our heritage and our high calling.”

The Rev. Embra Jackson, administrative assistant to Ward, learned about health covenants through his work on the congregational health ministry  team of the General Board of Global Ministries, the denomination’s mission agency. “As leaders of the conference we have to be role models,” Jackson said.

Global Ministries’ 11-person health ministry team illustrates a growing emphasis on health and wholeness in the United Methodist Church. Its mission is “to guide United Methodist annual conference leadership in transforming, mobilizing and advocating ministries of health and wholeness in the Wesleyan tradition,” said Dr. Cherian Thomas, the agency’s executive secretary in health and welfare ministries.

Wesley, Methodism’s founder, believed that every Methodist society should be involved in direct health care. But over the years, care for the body, the mind and the spirit has become separated for many people. The Bible repeatedly puts them together in accounts of Christ’s ministry and in other places throughout both the Old and New Testaments:

“For I am the Lord who heals you.”
--Exodus 15:26 (NRSV)

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
--Mark 12:30 (NRSV)

“The healing ministry is an integrative part of the church and the ministry of Christ,” Thomas said. “Jesus did preaching, teaching and healing ... they all flow into each other. The church needs to observe that.”

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Deborah White, a journalist in Nashville, Tenn., is passionate about faith and health. Her work has appeared in newspapers, hospital publications, websites and magazines in Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.

Copyright © Interpreter Magazine January-February 2006, a publication of United Methodist Communications, Nashville, TN, Used by Permission.

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