1 in 2 people in the U.S. have a chronic condition. If its
not you, its someone sitting next to you.
a chronic illness, such as fibromyalgia, or a chronic condition
like back pain from a car accident, is invisible. Those who
live with chronic illnesses do everything they can to look presentable,
get to church, and sit through the service. But as someone with
rheumatoid arthritis, as I stood during worship and grasped
onto the pew in front of me to balance my knees that need joint
replacements, I nearly laughed as the worship song said, I
will stand in spite of pain. Surrounded by a church I
loved, I still felt lonely and misunderstood.
have an overwhelming amount of needs that must be fulfilled
where the need is obvious. So if people arent saying anything
about their pain, doesnt that mean they are coping with
it fine? Their faith and the ability to pray for strength should
be enough, right?
look at some staggering statistics:
cause for concern. Whether you see it or not, your church body
has many ailing bodies, and they are often accompanied by broken
spirits. So, if people arent talking about their pain,
how do you know how to reach out to them?
a survey on the needs people may have that they are not speaking
out about, especially if you are a large church where people
may be more reluctant to talk about their needs. In a recent
Barna group study, it was found that larger churches were the
leas likely to mention congregational care ministries as a priority
(Church Priorities for 2005 Vary Considerably).
a van is provided, will you be able to get to church more easily?
Would you listen to church on the internet if you were too ill
to attend? Do you feel you can call and ask for occasional personal
assistance (especially if the illness is chronic and not acute)?
Would you like the worship song lyrics in the bulletin and not
just on an overhead? Are the seats comfortable or would you
prefer a few rows be saved for you with cushions? Brainstorm
with a group of people who have a chronic illness and ask them
for a wish list. Then sit down and prioritize.
a small group/Bible study setting for those with illness. For
example, Rest Ministries has a small group program called HopeKeepers
which provides a wide variety of materials and Bible studies
for this purpose. In a poll of over 500
people, Rest Ministries found that 66% of those with illness
say that if their church started a Bible study for those with
chronic illness they would definately attend.You
may find that although people enjoy the small groups they are
in, they feel that talking and praying about their illness week
after week is a burden. Having a place where they can speak
the same language and even laugh at the same jokes can
be invigorating. And if only a few people come, thats
okay. It brings people comfort to know the church has this oasis
when they need it.
special guest speakers. There are dozens of people who have
physical disabilities that go to churches and share their testimony.
Allowing them to be at the pulpit and share what God has done
in their lives despite physical challenges, sends a message
to those that are ill that you recognize their needs, you care,
and most of all, that you believe they are still worthy to be
used by God. People such as Dave Dravecky, Renee Bondi and Joni
Eareckson Tada, and many others, minister to the masses, not
just those with disabilities.
adding a parish nurse to your staff, especially if your church
body has a lot of seniors. Many retired nurses are finding
this area of ministry appealing and most hospitals now offer
training. Parish nurses have a variety of duties, depending
on your churchs needs and goals, for example, they may
go to homes to monitor diabetes or high blood pressure of church
members, organize health fairs and screenings, help provide
walking groups, etc. This position may be more applicable for
the size of your church than a specific disabilities coordinator,
yet s/he would cover these responsibilities, working closely
with the congregational care pastor.
helpful resources that are available for borrowing. Many
people with chronic illness are on a fixed-income and yet they
need encouragement. Stock your church library with books on
living with chronic illness such as Why Cant I Make
People Understand? by Lisa Copen or When God Weeps
by Joni Eareckson Tada. Buy a few subscriptions to magazines
such as HopeKeepers,
Guideposts and even Arthritis Today.
Remember to have books on tape, audio presentations and large-print
whenever they are available. Post flyers or have brochures available
about chronic illness or disability ministries, such as Jonis
Wheels for the World program or Rest Ministries
annual outreach, Invisible Illness Week. A parish
nurse may also want to collect lists of local resources and
national ministries and put them in binder; lists of organizations,
magazines and newsletters on topics for Christian seniors, those
with disabilities, caregivers, and assisted living to name a
and most importantly, remember people with illness want to servenot
just be served. He who refreshes others will himself
be refreshed (Proverbs 11:25). For example, when someone
tells you she is resigning from teaching Sunday school, let
her know that she is welcome to serve in other ways when she
is ready. She may find she enjoys writing notes to others who
have illnesses to encourage them. A man may find he can mentor
another man with a chronic illness one-on-one rather than leading
a Bible study. Let them know that you value wounded healers
and believe that God comforts us so that we can comfort
those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received
from God (2 Corinthians 1:4). About twice a month someone
tells me that they went to their pastor with a request to start
a chronic illness HopeKeepers ministry and they were told, you
can minister to others until you are healed. Ive
seen too many broken hearts because people are told they are
no longer useful to the church or even to God when they live
14:21 Jesus shares a parable of a great banquet. When the mans
friends all turned down his hospitality he commanded, Go
out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring
in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. This
is still a mandate to us today, but we must remember that to
provide a place where we offer hospitality, we must first go
out into our own pews and provide a place of refuge; then
these people who have experienced the comfort in your church
will be there to walk alongside the rest of the community with
open arms of understanding.
- Chronic Care in America: A 21st Century Challenge, a study
of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.),
- National Health Interview Survey
- Rifkin, A. "Depression in Physically Ill Patients,"
Postgraduate Medicine (9-92) 147-154.
- Mackenzie TB, Popkin MK: Suicide in the medical patient..
Intl J Psych in Med 17:3-22, 1987
Copen is the editor of HopeKeepers,
a quarterly magazine for people who live with chronic illness
or pain which is published by her ministry, Rest Ministries.
You can find more ideas about ways to help out a chronically
ill friend in her new book Beyond
Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend
Lisa lives in San Diego with her husband and 3-year-old son.
© Lisa Copen, 2006