Faith Works 4-17-10
Beyond the Health Care Debate, A Healing Discussion Is Needed
Back in junior high school, our town had a 135th anniversary come up (I'm not even sure if there's a Latin tag for that like "quasiquicentennial" for 125th).
Our social studies teacher saw an opportunity, and grasped it firmly, getting the local paper to basically give us both the occasion, and a chance to fill some pages. Each of us in the history club (yes, and I was in the AV club, too) got an assignment, and I ended up with the hospital. I forget how the various civic institutions were parceled out, and I recall wanting to draw the assignment to write about the library – I loved going to the library, and who wants to go to the hospital? But I embraced the inevitable, and recalled that the hospital administrator was on my paper route.
The next time I collected there, I asked Mr. Malasto if I could interview him, and he was entirely delighted to say yes: I barely avoided having to do the interview right there, but the route was only half finished.
The next day, I went back, notebook in hand, after the route was delivered, and sat down at his kitchen table. "You know, Jeff, your church founded our hospital."
That was not what I was expecting to hear. I had a bunch of questions in mind, but that just completely threw me. A church, founding a hospital? How does that happen?
Back in the late 1800s it happened that way quite often, actually. Over the years, I've always had this extra incentive to find out what the "origin myth" of the local hospital is, and most of them trace back to a start in a big old house near a church where a few walls got knocked out, some "casual wards" were set up with beds shoved in remarkably close together, and a surgical suite arranged often in the solarium (good clear north light is good for both artists and pre-electricity surgeons, it turns out).
As a ministry student, I did my Clinical Pastoral Education at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, and many is the time I've glanced up at the large white neon cross that is the remnant of the "White Cross Society" and Methodist history behind Riverside Hospital over in Columbus – and you don't have to know much history to intuit the Catholic roots of places called Mount Carmel or St. Ann's.
Once upon a time, churches did health care. It was part of their outreach and mission like baking brownies, raking leaves, and providing surgical services. It looks kind of crazy there on the page, put like that, doesn't it? But that's how it started.
Baking and lawn care have stayed pretty much in our ballpark, but hospital care has grown and developed in some interesting (ahem) ways. If a church said "we're planning on starting a hospital," your response is likely to be "oh, in Haiti?" and you're thinking of more of a glorified clinic, with cinderblock walls.
If the person replied "No, here in Licking County," you might just wonder how long they've been off their meds. Technology, billing, staffing – a congregation just can't do that kind of stuff, right?
What the modern world of medical care can and should help us consider as people of faith is the distinction between cures, and healing. A medical cure today is likely to include surgery and prescriptions and rehab work, and the growth or tumor or injury is excised or shrunk or repaired. That's all important, useful work, and the cure rates for all kinds of formerly fatal illnesses is simply amazing.
But even when there's a cure, there's often still a need for healing. Healing can take place when there is no cure, in fact, perhaps even more importantly so. Cardiac patients still feel cracked open long after their sternum knits back together, they need healing. AIDS patients who have their illness under control still feel disconnected from society, they need healing. Hospice care is not a matter of dials and knobs and white coats (mostly), but of healing, for the patient and for those who love them.
In all the debates around health care these days, can churches still do healing? We can visit and pray and participate in preventive care and be a meaningful part of the medical world, and miraculous cures are a subject all their own, but what about healing? Is this an area we can see ourselves in with a central role, or has the hospital experience left us thinking that a spot beside the bed is the only proper place for faith?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about healing work you've been a part of at email@example.com or follow Knapsack @Twitter.