Council puts biblical ideals, like health care, into action

Kentucky group aiming to create an advocacy network across state

By Mary Meehan

Lexington Herald-Leader (MCT)

Published: Saturday, Feb. 9 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

"The only way we are going to address chronic disease," such as heart disease and diabetes, he said, "is by working together."

And that, he said, involves a fundamental shift in how some churches view their mission and an expansion of how some churches define their "community."

The Rev. Peggy Hickman, a Disciples of Christ interim pastor and a former public health professor at the University of Kentucky, applies all of that experience to her work as chair of the council's health committee.

She said getting church leaders from a broad range of denominations hasn't been without its challenges. Some embrace health care as part of the mission of a church, she said, but others have a theological bias against that involvement, believing that healing is in the hands of God and that church members shouldn't be active beyond offering prayer and support.

But, Hickman said, she is hopeful the work done by so many individual churches throughout Kentucky can serve as a model for others hoping to start their own health care missions.

Hickman thinks health care reform offers churches an opportunity to break out of historical limitations. As the public is discussing health care reform as a whole, she said, "I think it is time to relook at issues of social justice."

Dealing with issues such as access to Medicaid, she said, church leaders and the council must tread carefully in supporting the idea of helping people without targeting a particular piece of legislation.

"It is a difficult path," she said.

The council has spent years learning what is being done in churches across the state, Taylor said, creating networks of people who know how to access health care resources and coming to some consensus on what churches can do.

She understands the reluctance that some clergy, already stretched thin, might have in embracing a new mission.

And, she said, she hopes individual churches will see that the council and other churches can offer them the support to take the next steps.

As churches look beyond the folks within their own communities to whom they instinctively reach out, they will see "there is often a whole class of people" with similar challenges, she said.

The question church groups need to ask themselves, she said, is: "Will you and your church step up to the plate and resolve those bigger issues?"

"The big, scary word for that," she said, "is advocacy."

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