Thursday, May 31, 2012

Parish churches offer health and healing

Having moved from place to place over the years, it is good sometimes to return to a town I once called home. I recently had the pleasure of walking through the doors of the parish church in which I was married, at which our children were baptised and which supported me as I explored my vocation to ordained ministry. It happened to be a very significant weekend for the parish. They were celebrating 20 years of their outreach ministry - a drop-in centre that reaches out to those whose lives are severely blighted by alcohol and substance abuse.

As I heard stories of how people had emerged from their addictions and had begun to get to grips with the underlying problems in their past, I was touched by the significance of this ministry. My friends from many years back had committed themselves and their church building to the most vulnerable members of society. As a result they witnessed the sort of healing amongst individuals who normally fall furthest through the net.

In particular, I was pleased to see that they were working with health authorities to address the physical symptoms of destructive lifestyles. Nurses from the local primary care trust are in church 4 days a week to address the health needs of clients, even as centre workers and volunteers are promoting growth in confidence and hope.

I have seen this sort of ministry also in the United States and in Canada. I am sure it goes on in many other parts of the Anglican Church. Parish churches are responding to needs and demands that are not easily addressed in formal health care settings. The level of trust, care and long term commitment creates a context where those with the deepest problems may discover hope for their lives. As those who carry the gospel of healing and salvation, church members bring the power of the Holy Spirit to awaken this hope and point others towards a life with meaning.

To the good people of St. Luke's Church, Bolton, UK, I salute you and pray for God's blessing on your ministry. May others be inspired by your example.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Person Centred Medicine

I met up with Professor John Cox recently. He was in Geneva to attend a conference on person centred medicine. John has a distinguished background in psychiatry in the UK, and is currently Professor of Mental Health at the University of Gloucestershire. He knows Geneva well since he was for a time Secretary General of the World Psychiatric Association. He has been involved in the movement for person centred medicine for many years and kindly introduced me to this line of thinking.

In reaction to medical reductionism, person centred medicine seeks to look at the wider picture of the person. This provides considerable space not only for the psychological and emotional, but also for the spiritual. It encourages physicians to take the time and energy to look at the deep rooted causes of illness and not simply to treat symptoms. The famous Genevan physician, Paul Tournier, is closely associated with this movement and made a major contribution to the understanding of the spiritual within the psychosocial approach to the person.

There is inevitably a tension running through the practice of medicine. The body, mind and spirit are complex systems with their own emergent properties. This is what makes each one of us unique. And being unique requires personalised approaches to the pursuit of health. Medical specialties focus on certain parts of the body in order to become more effective in treatments for the heart, the liver, the brain etc. But in the process, the systems thinking required to look at the whole becomes ever more complex. Can medical generalists still maintain the extent of knowledge required to look at the whole system of a single person? Perhaps this is where team work is required.

I would at this point refer to the pioneering work at Burrswood Hospital in the UK. This is a small Christian facility that has emerged from the healing ministry of Dorothy Kerrin. It has traversed the boundaries between spiritual, emotional and physical and offers a uniquely creative approach to the discipline of medicine. It utilises the skills of physicians, physiotherapists, counsellors and chaplains to allow patients to address their health from all angles. These work together and consult on the basis that most patients will need multiple interventions. For more information, take a look at their website:

However, with more complexity and greater attention to the person comes higher expenditure for the cost of skilled care. This is no easy tension to confront and may require fresh thinking about how people are supported in their pursuit of health. Perhaps you have some experience you can share? Do please offer comments.

Post a Comment

If you would like to comment on our blog posts, you can find the link for 'comments' at the bottom right of each post.