In 2000, the Health Care Justice Program of Justice and Witness Ministries has launched a new program model of health ministry in local UCC churches.
The Program, called Healthy Connections, is designed to identify and train lay ministers of health as "Healthy Connectors" who will share health information with their congregations, identify congregational health needs, and develop activities to address those needs. A specific goal of the training is to establish or enhance health ministries in local churches.
On October 8, 2000, twenty individuals representing ten UCC churches in Ohio's Western Reserve Association were consecrated and affirmed as Certified Lay Ministers of Health.
This first Healthy Connections training program was co-sponsored by the Greater Cleveland Chapter, United Black Christians. The graduation ceremony was held at East View UCC, Shaker Heights, in conjunction with the United Black Christian's anniversary.
The graduates, Cloggie Crowder, Charlene Higginbotham and Nathaniel Martin—Euclid Avenue Congregational UCC; Mary Stoffiere—First Congregational UCC, North Ridgeville; Shirley Gerecke, Frances Millward, Joan Mora—First UCC, Berea; Geneva Jones—Hough UCC; Amanda Blade—Imanl UCC; Rev. Pamela Canzaier Cheney, Douglas MacDougall, Kathy MacDougall—Lakewood Congregational UCC; Anthony R. Gegan, Holly Spencer-Trueman—Pilgrim Congregational UCC; Roland Carter, Mary McClain, Ida Murpuhy, Christine Rankin—Shaker Heights Community UCC; Carol Leahey-Kaliszewski—St. Lukes UCC; and Helen Wilson—The UCC in Brooklyn, were given a special charge: Find those in our churches who are in need of healing; do whatever you have to do to help them heal; and go out and tell the story of the healing power of God in our midst.
The Healthy Connections training is not designed to replace or detract from a congregation's parish nurse program. It is designed to enhance and support a church's existing program.
Lay Ministers of Health are natural leaders who are respected in their church and community, who are consulted by others for help and advice, who are or could be members of the health ministry committee, and who are interested in health issues. They are not necessarily members of the health care or medical professions.
The Healthy Connections Program is based on the concept of lay advisors, the people in every community and church to whom others naturally turn for advice, help and support. The purpose of the training is to enhance the lay persons helping and advising role, making them informed health advocates and liaison persons. With their increased health knowledge and awareness, the lay ministers of health can identify things that can be handled within their own support system and network and things that need to be referred to a health care professional. They also can enable congregations to increase their knowledge of health risks and lifestyle behaviors associated with most chronic diseases.
Illinois Conference, Central Metropolitan Association, Chicago, IL
Advocate Health Care hosts second Healthy Connections Certified Lay Ministers of Health Training
In 2003, Advocate Health Care hosted the second Lay Ministers of Health Training in the Illinois South Conference. Twenty-eight participants from 10 churches were graduted. This was the first multi-ethnic trainining.
"Shoulder to Shoulder - Hearts beating as one"
The Interfaith Health Network of Schuylkill County Pennsylvania
“A Muslim teacher explained to us that when Muslims pray they stand shoulder to shoulder. He noted that doctors now believe this closeness brings hearts into similar rhythms so that all the hearts start beating as one.”
(statement from a training participant)
In April of 2005, the Interfaith Health Network of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania held their first training for Lay Health Coordinators for congregations in the county. The training was held in response to a General Synod Resolution: “Reclaiming the Church’s Ministry of Health and Healing and was sponsored by the Health Ministry Committee at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Orwigsburg, PA.
“The Network is truly interfaith with Christian, Muslim and Sikh members. The training helped to reinforce the commonality of the beliefs that we must serve our neighbors regardless of their faith group, that we serve God in caring for our neighbor and that health is gift from God to be treated with great respect and care. There is such richness in the ways that God’s children have come to love and serve His flocks.” “We Stand Shoulder to shoulder and Hearts to Heart as shepherds sustaining life”
(Kathleen Jones, Commissioned Minister of Health, St. John’s UCC, Orwigsburg, PA.)
Thirty-Nine Graduates from the Western Reserve Association, Ohio Conference and several other denominations and interfaith organizations graduated on March 4, 2007 in the Amistad Chapel at the UCC national headquarters. This group of dedicated participants engaged in this training for four weeks in February. The training was co-sponsored with a partial grant from the Cleveland Department of Health, STEPS (Steps to a Healthier Cleveland) Program. In addition to the standard training curriculum, the participants received indept training from The American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, Cleveland State University's Center for Health Disparities, and the Cleveland Department of Health.