Having heard a yearning for greater health and healing in our neighbors’ prayers, we began to ask, “What if we sought – in this location where we have space, and land, and relationships – to be a place where we could address these concerns for health and healing together, for the glory of God?”
Test Events – No Need to Go it Alone
In 2018, we held 4 widely publicized community festivals and health fairs (2 in the summer, 2 in the fall) to gauge our community’s response and continue our discernment.
Other than offering the church’s space for the events and grilling some burgers for the free and festive meal, the members of this small church couldn’t do a health fair. That much was clear. We needed help.
And what a gift it is, to need help… because then we meet more friends and partners!
Reaching Out for Help – It Never Hurts to Ask
We learned that another Episcopal Church in town had a Congregational Nurse on staff who wanted to volunteer her professional services, and she brought along several other nurses, and we had the health fairs’ flu shots, blood pressure, blood sugar, and other basic exams covered.
We called up the area Mental Health Association, Immigrant Health Access Project, Domestic Violence services, and anyone we knew (or could search out on the internet) whose mission was to be agents for community health. We invited them to send literature, and hopefully a person, to have a table at our health fairs.
We also wrote a little announcement and sent it to all the city’s Episcopal Churches, and nearby churches, asking the pastors to include it in their Sunday bulletins – inviting people to attend, and even volunteer if they wanted. From these notices we got people willing to lead crafts and games for kids, face-painting, and even a retired nurse whose background was in trauma and behavioral health.
From Test Events to Beginning a Ministry
The response to these fairs was significant. We were able to connect people to the ER (for serious situations), financial assistance programs for uninsured people, flu shots, and mental health services referrals.
We approached the Cone Health Congregational Nurse Program to ask for a nurse placement to serve not just our church but our wider Northeast Greensboro community. This began in January 2019, and our community nurse now offers weekly health screens, nutritional counseling, housing advocacy for neighbors experiencing homelessness, and mental wellness check-ins.
Area universities have nursing programs and look for opportunities for their students to gain experience working in the community, and we were pleased to host 10 student nursing interns one semester. The students not only shared their knowledge but were mentored by our nurse and dinner guests about developing a relational approach to their work.
Food, Fellowship, & Faithfulness
In addition to health access needs in this part of Greensboro, we noticed that people are hungry; food insecurity is a part of life here. We are in the middle of an area identified with several contiguous food deserts, and so we heard a call to find ways to celebrate God’s promise to bless those with hungry bodies and souls.
So, we started offering a weekly community dinner and opened a small food and diaper pantry that happens at the same time as our nurse’s drop-in hours. This allows us to get to know each other as neighbors, relax and celebrate moments of delight in otherwise stressful and often isolated lives, and begin to learn each other’s languages of faith by reflecting on a piece of scripture and offering healing prayers for each other after dinner.
Partners Make it Possible
To open a pantry, and provide dinner for anywhere from 25-50 people a week, with leftovers to take home to other family and friends, this little church needs help!
We’ve invited ministry teams and youth groups to provide a meal as part of their local mission. We’ve sought out relationships with caterers who can donate their leftovers, which we can freeze and reheat (and bought a large freezer to handle the abundance!). And, we got connected with Share the Harvest and Food Not Bombs, who collect fresh produce from local growers and frozen meats donated from a local grocery, and we get to use these recovered foods in our meals and pass them out to guests.
In the first year of this Health Access and Healing Ministry, we were blessed to serve over 1,500 meals and support over 100 different households through our pantry and sending home leftovers on Tuesday nights.
We praise God for blessing us with neighbors who are becoming friends, for partners who are passionate about food security and decreasing food waste, and for nurses, students, professors, and more who have offered their expertise and passion for community health so we could all begin together to say “Yes!” to God’s invitation to participate in the work of healing for ourselves and our community!