Thoughts on an Upcoming Convening
By Gary Gunderson
On September 5th and 6th Stakeholder Health will convene at Howard University in Washington, D.C., to help faith-inspired healthcare and their faith-inspired community remember and then imagine and then commit. Unlike a bazzilion DC conferences that are full of whining and scheming, this one’s about remembering how to give it all away. It’s about how faith makes us bold and risky, not privileged and safe.
Hence the name: Faith in Health: Reasons, Risks and Responsibilities.
Stakeholder Health has been thinking about this ever since a group from the White House came to the tough streets of Memphis in a blizzard in 2011 and discovered hundreds of tough-minded congregations in covenant with a faith-inspired hospital called Methodist. An extraordinary learning journey ensued that led through several White House events and many others around the country.
What were we trying to learn? We wanted to know if it was possible—and then how—for these institutions to give themselves to the well-being and wholeness of their communities.
This learning came to sharp focus last year in a book of many authors, “Insights from New Systems of Health.” It is not imaginary, but testimony of work already alive on the toughest streets. It’s all about resilience, and obvious but radical new ways of understanding money, and crazy smart ways of doing community health workers, leadership, relational technology, global perspectives and over and over and over—being deeply accountable to our mission. It feels like life pulsing. We talk about the Leading Causes of Life. Here you can look it up.
How possibilities become realities
Those involved in the learning are pretty buzzed at all this. But we know that even very large institutions aren’t capable of achieving what is possible without a fundamentally new depth and breadth of partnership with the faith already alive on the ground. Many hospitals chatter on about population health as if it is something that can be done to a passive community, sort of like one might do liver surgery on an anaesthetised patient. We seek partnerships not out of etiquette, but utterly practical need. It’s the only way the possibilities become realities.
It’s time to wake everyone up and ask what is possible at this late date, even while the planet melts and those in power seem drunk with violence and the tools of fear. This might be the place to note that politicians have always seemed to have a knack for taking religious traditions built for shalom and turning them blunt, dumb and mean. The easiest way to do that is to turn them against another faith which is even easier if one hasn’t actually met any real members of that group. It’s hard to be mean or frightened of someone in your daycare pool or that you’ve prayed with. Nobody expected this would be necessary in the 21st century, but it is now a fundamental competence of anyone in a leadership role in healthcare or public health to know how to engage faith and the structures of faith as partners in a broad health strategy.
How to be deeply accountable
The convening in September is not for everyone. Don’t come if you think faith is best left behind or that the best of faith is behind us. Don’t come if you think that your medical computers and machines can be programmed to create health without needing any grown-ups on the streets. Don’t come if you’re more interested in death than life. And don’t come if you think that your churches and mosques and temples have pretty much done all that your God had hoped you might be doing.
There won’t be any healthcare, political or religious glamoratti dropping their PowerPoints onto a compliant audience. This is actual dialogue with grown-ups talking to each other about how to be deeply accountable for what matters most. We’ll open with worship and take some time to understand the extraordinary witness of gathering at Howard during the 150th year of its tenacious witness for mercy and justice. And then we’ll dive in with the lead authors of the Stakeholder Health book sharpening the implications of the collective learning so that the faith partners see how crucial they are to what is possible. And we’ll talk about how its not much easier for a congregation to be faithful than a hospital. We’ll pray together; sing like any movement does and hope for the Spirit to move us beyond ourselves. Lots of details to follow, of course.
But you can register here now.