Kerry Alys Robinson

The Gospel’s healing mandate

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

“The church doesn’t get a pass from carrying out the healing mandate of the Gospel,” my friend Scott Morris, a doctor, reminds me in no uncertain terms. If we want to be Christ-like, we are called to preach, teach and heal. How many of our faith communities take seriously the healing ministry to which Christians are called?

Morris is an ordained United Methodist minister, a physician and the founder of Church Health, a health-care ministry for the poor and uninsured in Memphis, Tennessee, the largest faith-based health-care ministry of its type. It was Morris who brought to my attention the promise and potential of parish nursing as an example of how parishes can model healing ministry, and I confess to being immediately captivated by the concept.

I was not surprised to learn that parish nursing first burst onto the national scene in Chicago, advanced by Rev. Granger Westberg, a Lutheran minister who in the mid-1980s worked with six area faith communities, including two Catholic parishes. 

The Catholic Church writ large has taken health care seriously. In the United States alone, every day one in six patients is cared for in a Catholic hospital. Women religious have played a predominant and vital role in advancing health care all over the world, and have been active in advancing parish nursing. 

The basic concept is this: A nurse is identified (and often paid) to galvanize and coordinate the desire on the part of parishioners to help care for and support members of the community who get sick. The nurse makes parishioners aware of the needs of the sick (only, of course, with patient consent) and coordinates the offers of support from members of the community including the preparation of meals, carefully identifying dietary restrictions, and offers to accompany those who are sick to doctors’ appointments and treatment. Parishioners who are sick are held in prayer by the community. Updates are provided in a coordinated, respectful way. Other needs identified are brought to the attention of the community as well, including financial support and visits.  

A coordinated intentional effort to catalyze the good will on the part of parishioners and their desire to comfort and help those enduring health challenges has many benefits. First, it is the right thing to do, considering the Gospel mandate of what it means to be Christian. 

Second, when professional coordination is brought to the equation, parishioners experience better overall care and the incidence of returning prematurely to the hospital is reduced or eliminated. This observation has led some to argue that hospitals might be persuaded to contribute to the cost of parish nurses because keeping patients healthy and avoiding a premature return to the hospital is economically prudent. 

Third, faith communities become more engaged, more communally responsible for their members, and the resources of the community are brought to bear on meeting the needs of others. Generosity begets generosity. 

Fourth, the healing ministry of the church is revealed to be not only about physical health and medical well-being, but health in a broad, comprehensive way, attending to the emotional, psychological, social and spiritual well-being of persons as well. It calls us to be caring, beneficial, other-centered, people in right relationship to one another. 

Lent might just be the perfect time for pastors, pastoral councils, pastoral teams and engaged parishioners to ponder the ways in which the faith communities to which we belong are carrying out the healing ministry of the church. How do we respond to the illness, suffering, anxiety and vulnerability of those within our midst? 

As we look toward the Easter Season of new life, now would seem to be our chance, in a deeply paschal way, to transform our communities into models of compassion, care, attentiveness and healing.


  • health care