Since 1999, Mary Chase-Ziolek has taught at North Park University and directed the faith-and-health program that combines the disciplines of health care, theology, and spirituality. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, she serves as a resource person for Covenant churches interested in developing ministries of health. Dr. Chase-Ziolek has published extensively on congregationally-based health ministries and parish nursing. Her book, Health, Healing and Wholeness: Engaging Congregations in Ministries of Health, was published by Pilgrim Press in 2005.
John Shorb: You talk about the broad perspective on health ministry. What do you mean by this?
Mary Chase-Ziolek: When you try to engage congregations in promoting health, you need to start with the question: how does health fit with our tradition and our beliefs? In the case of Christianity, what does our scripture have to say? What does our religious tradition have to say about how health fits in to the life of a church? You are trying to integrate and to weave health into the life of the church. You can do that with a variety of different models and a variety of different ways. Health ministry is an umbrella under which you would have parish nursing, lay health promoters, health ministry teams, faith-based clinics, and health mission work. But first you have to get a congregation to see the broader picture. A lot of churches will want to start with a program. If they hire a parish nurse, they think they will have a health ministry. You can do it that way, but you still need the broader engagement.
How do you get that dialogue going? What are the techniques or things you have seen to work that get that going?
I talk about that process as naming and reclaiming the church’s ministries of health. You might do it through Bible study, through what is taught and what is preached. It is not a very hard jump for people to make, to be reminded that their faith and their health are connected. Most people of faith know that intuitively.
The other thing that I have seen that has worked is gathering people who are interested. Here is where your language is significant. If you have an open invitation to people who are interested in health, you would get nurses, doctors, therapists, nutritionists, exercise instructors and pharmacists. Give them a broad and open invitation to talk about what they are interested in. What are their passions? That helps to identify some of the gifts within your congregation. Initially, you must develop the roots so that the health ministry can be sustained – get people in the church to say, “Yes! This really makes sense.” You may reach a point where you need to hire somebody, and in that case, it is very logical to have a nurse as a health minister because of their ability to speak on wide range of health issues and to be a bridge between the health system and the lay people. But if you jump too quickly to look at models or programming without a strong foundation, it will be difficult to sustain the ministry.
Could you talk about biblical roots for health ministry?
Looking at the biblical roots, I see three areas. The ones you see most often in congregations are the passages from the apostle Paul about the temple of the Holy Spirit and glorifying God with your body. These passages speak to health promotion and to our need to care for ourselves. If we believe we are created in the image of God, then it makes sense we should be responsible in terms of how we are caring for ourselves.
The other place churches frequently will connect with is the emphasis on healing in Jesus’ ministry. About a quarter of the Gospel stories are related to healing which is restoring health. Jesus sent out to the disciples to preach, teach, and to heal. That is a significant scriptural motivation in terms of health ministries. Churches have done very well with the preaching and teaching. But healing ministry has been more of a challenge in terms of how we restore health. Historically, it got its place by denominations starting hospitals. In the Chicago area, most of our hospitals were started by a faith-based organization. As health care became more complex and government got involved, the faith component is much less. This is something I think churches need to reclaim in terms of continuing Jesus’ ministry of healing. Restoring health does not mean we have to start more hospitals; instead we need to do things within our own congregations.
The third scriptural area is the responsibility of the church to help improve the health of communities. Not caring for ourselves and those in our congregations, but recognizing our responsibility for the well-being of others. Health is a communal responsibility. We are responsible for those who may not have a voice. We are responsible for creating communities that enable people to be healthy. I see that speaking loudly in the Old Testament – particularly Isaiah 58 where it says that if you care for the poor, the widow, and the orphan then your well being, your communal well being, your healing will be restored. It is a beautiful passage and a lot of churches use it for their outreach ministries. You see that sense of communal responsibility in the Old Testament.
Could you talk about how the faith-and-health program at North Park evolved and what that program entails?
North Park University has both a school of nursing and a seminary. Faculty in both of those areas became interested in doing some interdisciplinary classes. At the same time, within the Evangelical Covenant Church we started to have a number of people interested in developing health ministries in their congregations. We were started with support from the denomination to both develop a program that would be interdisciplinary in nature and educate folks on the connections between faith, health, and congregations that would serve as a resource to people who wanted to develop health ministries.
Through the denomination, we have a full complement of classes (also available online) on a variety of topics with a range of faculty. Topics include ministries of health, spiritual issues and chronic illness, disabilities, ethics, theology of caring and health, and biblical perspectives on health and healing. We have done a mission trip class that studied a community in Africa. You can either do a certificate in faith and health or you can do a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry with a concentration in faith and health.
If a health professional or a seminary student came to you and wanted broad advice about going into faith and health field, what advice would you give?
If you are a health professional, you already have your professional training. You need some theological grounding that goes beyond what you might pick up in church. I think being able to do some of the things like what we do would be a good way to start off. For a seminarian, I would look at opportunities to volunteer in faith-based health settings. If I were somebody going into the ministry, I would do some in-depth work on how scripture speaks to issues related to health and wholeness.
Where do you see the future of faith and health movement going? Where do you see an edge or something kind of interesting happening in the movement?
For new churches or church plants, people in those congregations could look at how to weave health into the life of the church when you are starting from scratch. When you have an existing church that has been around for a century, developing a health ministry can be more difficult, as you work with the existing culture and structure. When starting from scratch, you can determine how to promote the health and well-being of the members and community. What would a church look like if health was not a program but was woven into the fabric of the life of the church? I have not seen it yet, but I am expecting that we might see some interesting things in that area.
John Shorb is the Editor of Church Health Reader.