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Ask Deborah: Advice for a New Health Minister
April 23, 2012

QUESTION: I am just getting started in my new work as a health minister, and I am not sure how to get started.

ANSWER: Congratulations for your willingness to step up the plate and answer the call to care! I am assuming since you have been called as a health minister that you have the support of the clergy. And I would recommend that you move quickly, if you haven’t done so already, to set up a health committee with whom you can work on health ministries in your congregation. A good resource is the book by Jill Westberg McNamara, The Health Cabinet: How to Start a Wellness Committee in Your Church (or Chapter Five in The Essential Parish Nurse, which is about the role of the health cabinet).

Here are some important things to remember when starting your health ministry:

1. Be sure to take time to talk about the theological underpinnings for what you are doing with the clergy and your health committee. Some good resources for this work are Healing Bodies and Souls: A Practical Guide for Congregations by W. Daniel Hale and Harold G. Koenig along with Healing and Wellness: What your Faith Community Can Do by Jill Westberg McNamara. Other resources include Mary Chase-Ziolek’s book, Health, Healing and Wholeness: Engaging Congregations in Ministries of Health and Health Ministries: A Primer for Clergy and Congregations (D. Patterson).

2. Expand this conversation to the rest of the congregation through formats such as special luncheons, adult education classes, presentations at Women’s Fellowship, etc.

3. Keep your health ministry visible through a bulletin board that you update regularly. There are lots of good materials available to download or order for free from the CDC, NIH and other governmental agencies. Here is a list of national health observances.

4. Another way to have great visibility for your ministry is to put a health tip in your church bulletin. You can find great congregational health information in a variety of places, including this website (, through the Facebook page of Northwest Parish Nurse Ministries, or through your denominational health ministry programs.

5. Don’t forget your church newsletter! The IPNRC at the Church Health Center has a great resource called, “Healthful Hints” (Volumes I and II) which are great for newsletters. You can also find newsletter articles that can be reprinted from sources such as the National Women’s Health Resource Center, if you credit the source.

6. Partner with local health care professionals to provide services to your congregation. For example, many hospitals and other health organizations have speaker services and will be glad to provide speakers to your groups free of charge or for a very modest fee on a wide range of topics.

7. Advertise your programs to the community so that they know what you are doing. Your local newspaper may have calendar listings at no charge.

8. Partner with health ministers in other congregations. See if there is a parish nurse network or other organization working with health ministry with which you can get involved. For example, Northwest Parish Nurse Ministries works with both faith community nurses and health ministers.

9. Consider getting a “ready-to-use” program that you can offer through your congregation, such as “Get My People Going!” (IPNRC) or “Keep Your Mind for Later Use” (NPNM). These two are specifically designed for use in faith communities. There are other programs such as the “Chronic Disease Self-Management Program” offered through Stanford University that can be implemented by health ministers who have been trained to offer the program. Learn more on their website. There are a lot of such programs out there. One good way to find them is through checking with your local health departments and other organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association, Arthritis Foundation, etc.

10. Finally, do stay in regular communication with your health committee and the clergy of your congregation by documenting what you are doing so that you can report your activity on a regular basis.

The fields are white unto harvest, but the laborers are few. Wishing you many blessings!

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Deborah Patterson is here for you and your church. To send in a question to Deborah, send an email and write "Ask Deborah" in the subject line. Please include your first name and location.