Growing up in the church, or spending any amount of time in it, one will hear reference to ‘the sick’. ‘The sick’ are those individuals who are diagnosed with a serious illness or who have been hospitalized with a health crisis. As soon as their name and condition are known, the response is to reference the section of scripture which provides the most common instruction. And so it goes, found in James 5:14a: “Is any sick among you? Let him/her call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him/her” Yes, the leaders of the church are to gather and pray.
But as I think about being in a global pandemic due to COVID-19, and the devastating impact it has had, I realize what must accompany this act of community solidarity by church elders is an organized and elevated call to action. How will the church respond to the possible long-term effects of COVID-19 in addition to the already high prevalence of health issues like heart disease, diabetes and cancer in communities of color? Will the faith of church elders be enough to provide adequate counsel to ‘the sick’?
From prayers to health fairs
Most churches today have health ministries which were established to address sicknesses impacting members of the congregation. The ministry is responsible for providing support and information to those experiencing a health-related crisis. Usually we had to rely on a pamphlet designed by a non-profit and is either stacked on a corner table somewhere or in a brochure display stand. If it is a more forward-thinking faith organization, the health ministry (or health club) is more formal and meets regularly to plan for a few activities throughout the year, usually including a health fair.
[k1] In general, health fairs are a great way to provide a lot of information to attendees. Some fairs provide health screenings or information that saved someone's life. These stories rarely get mentioned in the news but can demonstrate the importance of health fairs and how they should be incorporated into faith based ministries. A disconnect between the community and the church’s health fair becomes evident when the health ministry does not provide screenings and critical have the information or resources needed to follow up on diagnosis discoveries. How does the ministry effectively serve and be its brothers/sisters keeper when such a gap in exists?[MG2]
To be in good health
The primary reasons for health disparities in communities of color are bad information, tools and resources. We need to bring reliable health information to the people through trusted agents. Robust health fairs with screenings and tests for conditions that are prevalent in our community are necessary. Health information must be written in understandable language and relevant to our community.
In most communities of color, access to quality and basic health care information is usually written in hard to understand terms or not relatable or relevant to our community. Because of this, we often don’t have the information, tools, or resources for good health. This is one of the primary reasons for health disparities among people of color.
In order to really address these disparities, the system needs to change. Health-care providers must plan to develop a course of action. Experience and voices of individuals, communities and leaders of the community, particularly those in places of worship must be included.
We are at a critical point and in a unique position. The health industry is starting to recognize that communities of color must participate in designing health care interventions. Now is the time for health ministries to work with health providers to receive tangible resources that can really improve and sustain the health of its congregation, and not just a pamphlet. One avenue to close these gaps is to have new or developing health ministries to join a church consortia of established health ministries. The consortia provides space to receive and share vital information that would benefit persons in need.
Health ministries must be sufficiently developed in order to serve the community into good health. Faith is the foundation to recognize the needs of the people. Taking action is the culmination of both faith and prayer. Action is the demonstration of that faith and the manifestation of the prayer which started with the elders.