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Doctor says churches need to promote health, wholeness

Dr. Scott Morris, a physician and United Methodist minister, is the founder of the Church Health Center in Memphis, Tenn., which provides affordable
medical care for the working poor and homeless in the area.
A UMNS file photo courtesy of Church Health Center.

By Vicki Brown*
Sept. 3, 2009 | LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS)

The church’s role in reforming health care begins at home, a family physician told United Methodist leaders.

Dr. Scott Morris, a United Methodist and founder of the Church Health Center in Memphis, Tenn., said the inability to deal with health and wholeness is one of the fundamental reasons the U.S. health-care system is broken.

For their part, churches need to do more than check blood pressure on Sunday and host health fairs, he told close to 80 new district superintendents and directors of connectional ministries.

“We need to explore what it means to have a healing ministry in our congregations and in our lives,” he said at a late August training event sponsored by the Council of Bishops, the Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the Board of Discipleship.

“You cannot have a healthy church if you don’t have healthy leadership.”
–Dr. Scott Morris

The Church Health Center, a faith-based clinic, provides affordable health care for working, uninsured people and their families. The center’s mission is “to reclaim the Church’s biblical commitment to care for our bodies and spirits.”

In his talk to new church leaders, Morris said often in his practice a patient will come to him with a complaint about back pain or some other problem when what is wrong is a broken heart.

“You can’t MRI somebody’s spirit,” he said.

In addition to ministering to their spirit, Morris said church leaders have a responsibility to teach and model healthy behaviors.

United Methodist clergy are 20 percent heavier than the rest of the population, he said.

Church leaders were each given a pedometer and a booklet from the Church Health Center titled, “On the Move in Congregations: Walking with Jesus.” District superintendents should help the clergy in their areas, Morris said.

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“You can help them lead a healthy life. You cannot have a healthy church if you don’t have healthy leadership,” Morris said. “We also hope you will be advocates for your church members to lead healthier lives.”

On the national level, one way the church can help in the debate over health care is to talk about end-of-life care, Morris said.

He noted that one-fourth of the Medicare budget is spent during the last six months of a person’s life. For many people, 80 percent of lifetime health expenses come in the last six months of life.

“The government can bring this up, but surely the church has something to say,” he said, noting that health-care providers view death as the enemy and believe it is optional. “We in the church believe death is a part of life. Isn’t helping people to die with dignity a role the church can play?”

*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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