Keith, Jimmy, and Alfredo stop by the Haywood Street Downtown Welcome Table for supper.
When Ministry with* the Poor and Global Health Converge
Abundant Life and Abundant Health
by Nicholas Laccetti and Mary Ellen Kris
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10b (NRSV)
The words of Jesus remind us that God created all of us to share in an abundant life—a life of balance, harmony, and wholeness. And yet, billions of people are struggling with poverty in its many manifestations—hunger, malnutrition, infant mortality, preventable diseases, and other avoidable suffering. As we try to respond in mission to these many situations of need, we wonder: What happened to God’s abundance for all?
One answer has to do with us creatures, not our Creator. Although humans are on a lifelong journey toward wholeness, we are not yet there, and our fears and insecurities create and perpetuate barriers to abundance for all—such as imbalance, disharmony, conflict, scarcity, inequality, poverty, and injustice.
But God continues to call us to be part of the solution, to be part of God’s mission to transform this world into a realm of love and justice. A way to join God’s mission is through the spiritual discipline of engaging in authentic Ministry with the Poor and the United Methodist companion focus on Global Health, two of the four priority areas of focus for The United Methodist Church.
Global Health is committed to fostering abundant health for all—meaning physical, mental, and spiritual well-being interconnected through a holistic and inclusive approach. Global Health is especially committed to fostering abundant health in economically vulnerable communities by protecting children and disadvantaged adults from preventable causes of death and by improving quality and equitable access to health care for those living on the margins.
Although that certainly means that Global Health, with and through its many United Methodist, ecumenical, interfaith, and secular partners, will necessarily engage with extremely poor communities outside the United States, the term “global” does not exclude the local, nor does it exclude the United States. Indeed, a new study commissioned by the Bread for the World Institute shows that, last year alone, hunger and food insecurity increased health expenditures in the United States by $160 billion (see http://www.bread.org/library/cost-hunger). In addition, in the United States, a recent United Methodist survey demonstrated concerns regarding mental health, non-communicable diseases, and aging.
In response, Global Health in the United States is focusing on congregational, community-based, holistic health ministries, including ministry with those who have physical and mental special needs and those affected by substance abuse and related violence.
The Haywood Street Respite
The intersection of Global Health and Ministry With is a relational community health-care approach in which individual and community assets are valued and harnessed and vulnerable people are treated with dignity and respect, accompanied in their struggle toward fullness of life. An example of how this approach differs from traditional institutional health care is exemplified by the Haywood Street Respite facility.
Haywood Street Respite is part of the Haywood Street Congregation, a United Methodist church in Asheville, North Carolina, and a remarkable Ministry with the Poor mission of the Western North Carolina Conference in its Blue Ridge District. At Haywood Street, volunteers are known and trained to serve as “Companions” to those “Friends” who come to Haywood Street for a meal, a haircut, spiritual nourishment, companionship, social services, or post-hospital care.
I (Mary Ellen) was fortunate to stumble upon Haywood Street in 2012 while taking classes in Ashville with other United Methodist deaconess candidates. An Asheville resident and classmate, Jody Halstead, urged the group to attend the Wednesday afternoon lunch and worship at Haywood Street. Halstead had begun volunteering at the Haywood Street Mission on Wednesdays through her own church, Central UMC, and now she looked forward to worship with the Haywood Street community every Wednesday afternoon.
The Haywood Street Congregation UMC turned out to be a stately brick building, a remnant of another era. We joined a line of folks who were waiting for the free community lunch (known as “the Downtown Welcome Table”). Some were also speaking to counselors about available social services. After lunch, we went into the sanctuary for the noontime worship service.
The sanctuary was crowded. Most of the people looked to be materially poor. In fact, many of them lived on the streets or under bridges. There were also some elderly women who had been members of the church during its glory days, long before its recent transformation into a church of the poor. Some middle-income people from the community were present as well.
The senior pastor, the Rev. Brian Combs, asked, “Whose child are you?” All answered, “God’s child!” Pastor Brian read the Bible story of David and Goliath. Then, instead of preaching about what the story meant, he asked the worshiping community to discuss “the Goliaths” in their lives. Among people they knew and some they didn’t know, the worshipers spontaneously responded, one by one, giving powerful personal testimonies about their Goliaths. Their willingness to expose their vulnerabilities, share their demons, and respond in community to each other’s unvarnished pain was striking.
The Haywood Street Respite, another of the church’s ministries, opened in January 2014. It is “a safe place for up to eight homeless adults at a time to rest, get three meals a day, and be helped in other ways to ‘get back on their feet’ following discharge from the hospital. It is short-term care in a home-like setting for folks who are too ill or frail to recover on the streets after surgery or acute illness” (from http://haywoodstreet.org/2013/07/respite/).
The Haywood Street Respite is more than a hospital alternative. The home-like setting provides a place of rest where people are treated like friends or family rather than clients. Fostering that quality of environment requires vulnerability on the part of the Companions who staff the program. Halstead, who is also a nurse, was the original program manager of the Respite. She says it is an intentional community. “It provides the family support that many people don’t have when they’re living in some extreme circumstances,” she explained. Family support necessitates a different kind of relationship and vulnerability than a mere professional-client relationship.
Haywood Street was every bit as powerful as Halstead had promised—so much so that the maturing and new emerging ministries of Haywood Street (such as the Respite) serve as striking examples of transformative Ministry with the Poor. Deaconess and Public Health Social Worker Laura Kirby, who serves as the executive director of the Haywood Street Congregation, zeroes in on what makes the Respite a great example of “Health With:” “It’s been a wonderful fulfillment of our mission at Haywood Street. The relationship piece is what is transforming lives here.” To learn more about the many dimensions of this dynamic congregation, its ministries with the poor, its training opportunities, and how to become involved here or in your own community, go to www.haywoodstreet.org and view the videos, blogs, and other materials.
As Haywood Street Congregation demonstrates, God’s abundance for all is not an economic system or an antipoverty project. God’s abundance for all is the theological conviction that all God’s children were created in God’s image to attain the physical, spiritual, and emotional wholeness and well-being that Ministry with the Poor and Global Health are intended to nurture.
The starting point for engaging in authentic Ministry with the Poor is intentionally building authentic, caring, mutual, transformative relationships with and among those struggling with poverty. This is the way to ignite just and sustainable change that embraces God’s abundance for all.
Ministry with the Poor is shorthand for relational approaches to ministry, such as being with, walking with, standing with, partnering with, advocating with, breaking bread with, worshiping with, and praying with people. Relational ministries are rooted in mutual trust and caring and often take the form of accompaniment or walking alongside people struggling with conditions and systems that perpetuate poverty.
In contrast to Ministry with the Poor, the traditional charitable antipoverty model is based on donor-recipient transactions (rather than relationships) in which donors provide material things to and do things for recipients. Often those transactions are defined and controlled by donors, not-for-profit organizations, or developers who have conducted their own needs-assessment studies, defined what they believe to be “the problem,” designed “the fix,” and attached conditions to their generosity in order to drive the solution they have chosen.
In this transactional, donor-driven model, the complex economic, sociological, psychological, and spiritual conditions of poverty (including poor health related to poverty and lack of access to quality health care) too often are seen in isolation. A solution is engineered without the input, wisdom, and experience of those living with the issues.
Much is lost in that kind of process: ingenuity, ownership, local leadership development, sustainability—and in some ways worst of all—the dignity and respect of the recipients.
Abundant Health in Community Is Health With
Community Health, with its ethos of accompaniment and asset-based approach, must be seen as a cornerstone of advancing Abundant Health With. This approach lies at the intersection between the Global Health and Ministry with the Poor focus areas of The United Methodist Church, bringing Jesus’ gift of abundant life for all to those struggling with poverty in a way that is concrete, relational, and rooted in local communities.
Community Health Initiatives like the Haywood Street Respite begin the necessary transition from thinking about Global Health as strictly client-based care to a model that truly sees abundant health as a holistic goal that must include the community in all its aspects—physical, mental, and spiritual.
Whether you view Global Health as a particular manifestation of Ministry With or as two sides of the same coin—at the “sweet spot” of their intersection you will find barrier-breaking, relationship-based ministries that tap into and seek to embody divine abundance.
Mary Ellen Kris, a commissioned United Methodist deaconess, has been engaged by Global Ministries for nearly six years to provide leadership, direction, and support for the UMC’s focus on Ministry with the Poor. Following a long career in law and public service, Mary Ellen earned an M. Div. degree with a concentration in poverty and justice from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Nicholas Laccetti, who also has an M. Div. from Union Theological Seminary, is the Ministry with the Poor communicator at Global Ministries. His studies focused on the intersections of popular religion, theology, and social change.
The Haywood Street Congregation serves communion, Asheville, North Carolina. Photo: Ann C. Merritt
The Haywood Street Congregation sign declares the church as a zone of “Holy Chaos.” Photo: Ann C. Merritt
The Rev. Brian Combs, Haywood Street Congregation, facilitates discussion during worship. Photo: Ann C. Merritt
Features of Ministry With
In contrast to merely giving to or doing for people in poverty (as if they have no gifts, talents, or voices of their own to contribute),
engaging in ministry with, alongside, and in concert with leadership
from the margins (instead of from the center) includes a number of
distinguishing features, such as:
• Mutual, Transformational Relationships
The foundational principle of Ministry With is the practice
of building authentic, mutual, open, caring, sustained, and
transformational relationships among people of different
economic, cultural, and class situations.
• Crossing Boundaries as a Spiritual Discipline
Multiclass, multicultural worship, prayer, artistic expressions,
and other inclusive spiritual and social encounters embrace
and celebrate diversity and create safe and welcoming
spaces to cross boundaries.
A short-hand expression for being with, accompaniment assumes humility, openness, and courage, and a willingnessto listen, learn, and build trust and deeper relationships.
• Asset-Based Leadership From the Margins, Not the Center
Respects and values the skills, knowledge, and leadership
potential of those living on the margins. Begins with seeking
out and embracing the assets—gifts, talents, graces, and
hopes—of communities and people impacted by poverty.
• Long-Term Sustainable Impact
Building and maintaining relationships that nurture and
respect local leadership and avoid creating dependencies
requires more than short-term interventions and relief.
A long-term commitment of partners in relationship with
leaders of local communities is needed to bring about
sustainable change in systems and structures.
To Read More, see:
Ministry with the Poor Guiding Principles and Foundations: Answering
Jesus’ Call to Discipleship in God’s Mission of Love and Justice: