Most medical schools now offer courses on the link between faith andhealing. But with the medical system in disarray and congregations that saytheir plates are already full, how will the faith health movement move?It may receive its biggest push from the government as welfare reformencourages faith-based organizations to administer more and more socialprograms.
Gunderson is concerned that without a thoughtful system nurtured byorganizations like the Faith and Health Consortia churches will simplyput a religious "glove" on the fist of inefficient solutions.
He said he believes leaders need to get beyond creating a cluster ofinteresting projects like parish nursing and prostate screening days to forminga coherent system or movement.
"Science says poverty and economic disparity are the greatest healthrisks," he said. "That means hospitals should beleading the charge against poverty. To do otherwise is to participate ina kind of malpractice."
People at the conference said they attended because they knowthey're reinventing the role of congregations and the roles ofcongregational leaders. Youth ministers, for example, will more and more be held accountable for the health of a congregation's youth. That includes issues such asviolence, sexual identity and substance abuse.
"If you didn't already have churches, you'd have to invent them todeal with this opportunity," Gunderson said. Parish nursing is just thefirst step. "The time of challenge is here. We're being asked to come tothe table," Gunderson said.