The Thing Itself: The Tapestry of A Ministry in Higher Ed by Thomas Mainor

The Thing Itself: The Tapestry of A Ministry in Higher Ed

An interesting and varied cast of characters provided material and the looms that helped to weave a curious tapestry of campus ministries in Virginia in the late ‘60s into the ‘80s. Beyond traditional student ministries, there was a slow evolution, a journey that led to new understandings of the Thing itself. What developed was not a carefully conceived and fabricated design or vision. What did emerge was an interesting opportunity to take part in campus ministry during a time when national, regional and local governing bodies shared the costs, and when Campus Ministry shared ideas of ministry shaped to the times.

Following Seminary, I was called to a rural/labor parish, Falling Spring, in the ‘forks of the James’ ‘twixt the Shenandoah and Roanoke valleys of Virginia—a wonderful congregation in an historic setting. The view from the front steps of the Church was idyllic, rolling foothills, Blue Ridge Mountains, homes and farms. Great folks. Good things were happening.

With uncertainty, I accepted a call in1967 to be Presbyterian campus minister at William and Mary and Associate Pastor at Williamsburg Presbyterian Church. The call came from three agencies; the Synod of Virginia, Presbytery of Norfolk, and the Williamsburg congregation.

At William and Mary, with an interesting array of colleagues, we soon formed CaMU, Campus Ministries United, enabling us to work together ecumenically and interfaith with students, college faculty and administration in ways not otherwise possible. Our joint efforts helped provide access to college resources and venues that might otherwise be unavailable. For example, we co-sponsored with the art department an on-campus exhibition of the linoleum block print art of Robert Hodgell, of then Florida Presbyterian (Eckerd) College. We featured a Wesley/CaMU Coffee House performer, guitarist/vocalist, Cleveland Francis, in standing-room-only crowd in Phi Beta Kappa Hall, space provided by the college.

Engagement with the Honors Program, Student Affairs, and a newly formed Department of Religion was well received. We created a joint office through the facilities and resources of the Wesley Foundation, where United Methodist campus minister Braxton Allport and I shared space and secretary. CaMU met regularly to plan programs and provide mutual support for seven denominations including Catholic, Christian Scientist and Jewish communities. Each of us worked with denominational groups with students, providing pastoral and liturgical support opportunities, and together on campus with a variety of program efforts.

In 1969, the Danforth Report, The Church, the University and Social Policy, was published. It made significant impact on my own understanding of higher education ministry. Focused on mainline Protestant ministries, director of the study Kenneth Underwood identified four principle modes of ministry considered most influential: those of pastor, priest, prophet and king. That is, ministry to persons, the speaking forth of the essentials of faith and provision for liturgical occasions, focusing on justice and mercy in society, and the governance structures of society—how love of neighbor is expressed practically where we live.

The basic assumption in the Underwood Study was that the university is a key institution in our society. The role was one of working with faculty and developing student leadership who would have significant opportunity to become competent in a variety of disciplines, to shape social policy and influence legal, business, political rhetoric and the social fabric of society. The university also greatly influenced those who would eventually become leaders in religious communities. Universities enabled society to remember and reflect on its history and values affirmed from founding documents and events that challenged those values through the years. The poetry and literature of cultures provided introductions to the meaning of life in a larger commonwealth. Study of new developments in scientific research about the world around us, about the human imprint on the earth and negative influences upon it, how to think about the order of things, and how to govern and be governed were fundamentally important. Also significant was the nature and provenance of the values that prevail in academic inquiry and in society’s economic and legal frameworks. Underwood felt that too often, the university operated under values-free research while church efforts on behalf of social and corporate ministry lacked competence. Both aspects, he felt, were critical and significant to society. Linkage of well-informed, and knowledgeable ethical reflection was essential to a healthy society—thus the Church (writ large), the University and Social Policy.

The role of the church—I understood—was not only to be a pastor to students, but also at least as vigorously and competently, see faculty and administrators in a pastoral and collegial light (many sat in our congregations). We were to seek—among many voices present—to reflect a responsible prophetic voice in the community. We had no ‘right’ to be heard. We did have—because of the roles religions play in the world, for good or ill—a significant opportunity to be responsibly engaged as congregations around campus and in programs we might co-sponsor as partners within the College. Indeed, religious communities had a long history of founding schools and colleges, not least in the early days of our nation—Harvard, Princeton, Davidson, Duke, to name but a few. Our engagement within education had a long history and no less in publically funded higher education.

At William and Mary for CaMu, the Honors Program was willing to partner with us in occasional programs. In the Viet Nam era, a Peace Research academic focus was initiated. Important given all that was happening on campuses across the nation, such as Kent State. Under the leadership and resources of the Honors and Project Plus program, we worked in the creation of a yearlong Conflict and Conflict Resolution emphasis. There were 85 students and 15 faculty selected across disciplines—including military science—in the program. The c0-ed dorm, innovative in those days, housed all 85 students, providing opportunity for non-structured exchanges. The course represented one-quarter of a student’s academic load. There were weekly evening seminars for the program that included guest participants. One evening seminar on the Palestinian-Israeli divide included a representative of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and a Palestinian envoy—also from D.C.—who engaged with one another and with students and faculty.

On one occasion, we were able to co-sponsor Marvin Kalb, then CBS Diplomatic Correspondent, for about 500 in a Parents Day program. Honors at W&M helped with the costs and he spoke to two classes, in addition to an evening presentation. In that period during Viet Nam demonstrations and the Kent State tragedy, such was a strong positive dialogue on campus.

Meanwhile, Synod-wide in those ‘thrilling days of yesteryear,’ the Synod’s executive, James A. Payne, Jr., played a strong partnership role in support and development of a Synod-wide Campus Ministry Staff Team. Presbyterian team leadership included campus ministry Sage, Woody Leach, serving Virginia Tech. His campus ministry focus on justice ministries and his long presence at VPI was impressive. His associate was Jim VandeBerg, an insightful and thoughtful colleague, whose talents provided important leadership then and in future years to the denomination. They were especially involved in a host of issues related to Appalachia and the social issues that grew out of the exploitation by the coal industries. Night Comes to the Cumberlands and Yesterday’s People are examples of the issues focus of the times. Both Jim and Woody played major roles in leading and interpreting the campus ministries that evolved across the Virginias, and in my own understanding of what ministry in higher education was all about.

The Synod executive worked actively and supportively with us and helped higher education ministries evolve, including guiding us in dealing with funding issues. Each of our campuses had different styles of ministry, and the staff team seemed to come together to breathe fire into the larger strategies for the new Synod of the Virginias (including West Virginia and Pennsylvania’s Trinity Presbytery) and local campus ministries across the area. This particular team also included ministries on campuses large and small. “Flash” (Howard) Gordon at UVA and others included ecumenical partners on campuses, such as Jim McDonald, United Methodist Minister at THE University. The ecumenical team partners grew in importance and included Catholic Campus Ministry coordinator, Cosmos Rubencamp, and John Coffey of the United Methodists. Throughout this time, staff like Clyde Robinson of the PCUSA national staff and others were significant and supportive colleagues.

Importantly, we were enabled to envision and plan campus ministry across Virginia in a larger context with our supporting agencies than might otherwise be possible. Pastoral concerns joined Jim VandeBerg and me with the national Clergy Consultation on Problem Pregnancies, dealing with abortions and alternatives prior to Roe v Wade in 1973. This evolved into denomination-wide pastoral efforts on the issue, which later began to focus on larger health ministry issues.

Our campus ministry team approach also involved the expansion into northern Virginia—George Mason University and Community Colleges in the area—where we gained yet another United Methodist Colleague. Robert Thomason provided significant leadership in the years ahead. He later became staff to the Virginia Council’s Campus Ministry Forum. Jim McDonald became Executive for Virginia Council of Churches. This mirrored national trends, as Campus Ministry tended to transition from denominational to ecumenical efforts. Significantly, funding was available from denominational leadership on the national stage. Presbyterian national staff was deployed regionally as well as UMHE. It was also a time when social issues—especially civil rights and the Viet Nam war—played out with powerful campus impact. The Church asked what it meant to be Christian in such a time, and controversy swirled around ways in which ministers on campus understood their role. Pastoral and Prophetic intertwined. The support of UMHE and the National Campus Ministry Association were significant. So, too, was the influence of national denominational leadership, who provided funding for UMHE.

At UVA, Jim McDonald, a supportive colleague over many years, was part of a team approach through the Virginia Council of Churches called the Virginia Campus Ministry Forum. In the early ‘70s, Jim and I attended at least two or three annual conferences of the American Association for Higher Education in Chicago. There we were immersed in issues and trends in higher education and, we thought, important to campus ministry. For me, one workshop, sponsored by Nursing Educators, featured one whose leadership would prove significant in future bioethics and health ministries. Introduced to the insights of Dr. Edmund Pellegrino—then Chancellor and VP of Health Sciences at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Memphis—fresh notions began forming of what ‘campus ministry’ might involve and what types of campuses might be part of the scene. It proved to be important in years ahead as health care and ethics issues continued to grow in understanding the relevance of higher education ministries—not only to campuses, but—to the ecclesiastical communities own concepts.

In the late 60s and early 70s, Presbyterian higher education ministries in Philadelphia, under contributed staff, campus minister Ron McNeur, performed administrative support for the Society for Health and Human Values. Verlyn Barker wrote for United Ministries in Education a report in 1987 entitled Health and Human Values. In it he provided a historical record of the Health and Human Values and “lift up the learnings of the program for the churches.” He noted that we become involved in addressing pain and suffering, and risk being consumed by it. We can become so involved in addressing the hurt that we do not have time to help persons and communities understand issues and needs in order to anticipate decision-making and participation in our complex world.[1] A listing of colleagues mentioned demonstrates a depth of commitment from across the nation.

During these days, biomedical ethics grew from an early nascency to become a critically important dimension in medical and nursing education. In addition, it attracted a significant core of philosophers and lawyers. The Society was officially established in 1969. It was an entity of United Ministries in Higher Education. Part of its early funding came from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Again, engagement at a national and regional level was significant in obtaining needed finances. SHHV sought primarily to be a membership organization for those engaged in studying and promoting values in medicine and medical education. The primary objective promoted informed concern for human values as an essential dimension of the education of health professionals. The first Department of Medical Humanities was formed at Penn State University Med Center in Hershey, PA. Bioethics emerged as a new discipline. Dr. Pellegrino and others visited over 80 medical schools to introduce faculty and students to the new discipline and to set up an educational program for future generations of doctors. They intended that bioethics move from literary texts, reports and commissions to changes in the clinical practice of ordinary physicians and health professionals and clinically based bioethics committees. One cannot peruse the lists of SHHV leaders from the early years without noting the frequency of Dr. Pellegrino’s involvement.

An Internal Medicine specialist, Dr. Pellegrino, in 1975, led Yale-New Haven Medical Center. In 1978, he became President of Catholic University, then Director of Georgetown’s Kennedy Institute. Dr. Pellegrino strongly felt that Medicine was a moral enterprise. He told Georgetown Magazine “if you take away the ethical and moral dimensions (from medicine), you end up with a technique. The reason it’s a profession is that it’s dedicated to something other than its own self-interests.”

Departments of Medical Humanities and Bioethics committees slowly came to be recognized and organized in medical education and health care settings. Committee members needed education in a field that saw the growth of an extensive literature. Attitudes of resistance and skepticism slowly gave way as medical faculties recognized the importance of a humanities component in scientific medicine. Medical curriculum came to include substantial time and content in ethics, law, humanities and the social sciences.

In 1998, SHHV, along with the Society for Bioethics Consultation and the American Society for Bioethics, merged to form the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. Many of the early leaders provided a core for both organizations, and the academic depth was sound and impressive.

In the early 1970s, as I became Campus Urban Minister for the Presbytery of Norfolk, with the support of the Synod, the work expanded. Not only did this continue to involve the College of William and Mary, but Old Dominion University, Norfolk State and nine other schools across the region. Soon, however, Eastern Virginia Medical School and ODU were a heavy focus for me on the other side of Hampton Roads. Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), a community-based medical school being developed in Norfolk, became for me one of the campuses among those in our region.

Dr. Donnie J. Self was hired as shared faculty with Old Dominion and EVMS, including financial and staff support from Synod and Presbytery Campus Urban resources. Don received a B.S. in chemistry and a B.A. in philosophy in 1965 and 1967 from Furman University. He worked two years as an industrial chemist. In that period, he pursued graduate studies in philosophy. He gained his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in 1969 and 1973 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For six years, he did cancer research in neuropathology at Duke University Medical Center. When he came to Norfolk, he began an active focus in Bioethics. His area of special interest concentrated upon cognitive moral development theory and its application to the field of medicine.

Over the years, Dr. Self taught bioethics at ODU and EVMS, then became full-time at Eastern Virginia. It afforded me an exceptional opportunity to work with Dr. Self and others in the context of medical education. King’s Daughters Children’s Hospital, Norfolk General and Leigh Memorial Hospitals provided for me the clinical context to work in the area of neonatology as chaplain/ethicist. Other hospitals came on board and enabled a remarkable array of opportunities for the Human Values program and its students. For me, as a campus pastor interested in bioethics and health care issues, this was a significant gift to efforts in understanding how religious communities could be constructively involved—getting educated on the issues as well as engaging in and contributing to the dialogue from a religious values perspective. We were exploring the interfaith with medicine and religion. Around the country, these programs began to grow and find a place in medical and nursing education. Dr. Granger Westberg was one among those in Chicago with whom we worked over the years.

During the late 70s, with the advent of in-vitro-fertilization in England, the EVMS-based Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine gave significant opportunity for Dr. Self and the program to engage with doctors Howard and Georgiana Jones, of the EVMS Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The challenges of and resistance to the idea of in-vitro fertilization at that time were significant. Before the birth of the first In Vitro Fertilized baby in the U.S., Elizabeth Carr in 1981, there was not only the challenge of starting such a program, but through Drs. Jones’ efforts and those of Medical Humanities, discovering how to helpfully engage with the larger community, the Catholic Diocese of Virginia and others. The department assisted in helping communications with Bishop Walter Sullivan and others in exploring issues, the science and moral concerns inherent. Bishop Sullivan was engaged in the discussions.

Don Self put the department of Medical Humanities at EVMS on a remarkable course through the years. He led annual Human Values retreats for the entire school, students, administrators and faculty. He invited a strong list of national leaders in Bioethics to monthly discussion groups with faculty and students. Genealogy studies and patient interview skills were emphasized. Among others, he published numerous articles in ethics and moral development theory. In the area of moral reasoning among medical students he published several articles on their research with the Rev. Dr. Joy D. Skeel of the Medical University of Ohio in Toledo. He has to date written and published over 100 articles and published three books in important areas in the medical humanities. Around 1982, he moved from EVMS and became faculty in Medical Humanities at Texas A & M University College of Medicine, continuing his creative approach to health care issues, detailing issues concerning care and cure. In recent years he has become editor of the Journal for Theoretical Medicine.

Clearly, we were quite fortunate to be able to share in the growth in the area of medical humanities. In no way could ecclesiastical budgets have afforded us the resources to design such, even had we the brains or skills to do so. But allowed to partner with the new medical school, physicians and others enabled an involvement that exceeded expectations. At least mine. Study opportunities for me afforded included two visits to the University of North Carolina Med School to work with Dr. Larry Churchill, in the Department of Medical Humanities, with clinical opportunities provided by Dr. James Bryan II, who was professor of social and community medicine. Larry Churchill and Dr. Bryan made it possible for me to take part in daily rounds with physicians, medical students, nurses and clinical pharmacists—a model which was found to be an effective and sound way to learn and practice patient care. Grand Rounds on Morbidity and Mortality also provided powerful insights. The manner of teaching and the results repeatedly won Dr. Bryan with accolades from medical students. Students and alumni praised Dr. Bryan for demonstrating the importance of getting to truly know patients and then to care for them as individuals. On home medical visits with Dr. Bryan, I learned a lot about pastoral care. Student after student, when he receive a Mentor Award for Life-time Achievement said, essentially, “Dr. Bryan taught me to be a ‘real doctor,’ one who can talk with patients, one who combines intelligence with compassion.” The clinical model experienced in those study leaves made a powerful impression over the years, which translates well for chaplains and pastors in medical settings.

Dr. Larry Churchill, who later moved to Vanderbilt University, explored among many issues, the ethics of the justice issues in health care reform, as well as the basics of What Patients Teach: The Everyday Ethics of Healthcare. He remained an invaluable and accessible colleague over the years. He has written numerous articles and books. One on Rationing Health Care in America grew out of both clinical observations and moral reasoning.

Having served as an advisory member of the Human Values Committee of EVMS for several years, in 1980 I became for two years a part-time member of the EVMS faculty in Medical Humanities and Religion. At the same time, I served as part-time staff to the Virginia Campus Ministry Forum, with attendant duties. At EVMS, the clinical area in which I was able to serve for two years was the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at King’s Daughters Hospital for Children. Joining the faculty of EVMS in 1980, Dr. Thomas Pellegrino, oldest son of Edmund Pellegrino, who brought to his practice and teaching in Medicine and Neurology the passions for human values in medicine we saw in his father. He was an immensely popular professor and a highly regarded physician.

From a ‘campus ministry’ perspective, things changed dramatically in 1983 when I was asked to become the first hospital chaplain for Norfolk General and Leigh Memorial Hospitals, consisting of two hospitals with 900 beds. Concurrent with that move in about 1983, Norfolk General became Medical Center Hospitals and founded its first medical helicopter trauma team. They had a crew of about 26, a state-of-the-art flying intensive care unit with a staff second to none. Not complaining. I had a wonderful secretary to assist me in serving the two hospitals. In time, we were able to engage about 40 community clergy as volunteers to give full coverage. The major clinical areas covered, in addition to the Operating Rooms, were the Trauma and Burn Unit, some step-down units and especially the newly developing hospice unit. We provided chaplaincy services across the religious spectrum and sought to engage in a ‘medicine and religion partnership’ method of approach developed in the EVMS human values program, where I continued an adjunct faculty status. We conducted sessions with community clergy on a regular basis and with nursing staff around Issues in Patient Care, which covered a host of subjects dealing with staff, families as well as patients and occasionally in congregations.

An area of continuing concern remained access to and the provision of quality health care for all persons. Then as now, health costs were soaring. This had been a focus of denominations during the 1960s and 70s. I served the Presbyterian Church U.S. (southern) as part of the Committee on Therapeutic Abortion, which (after Roe v Wade in 1973) then morphed into the Presbyterian Health Network (PCUS), recognizing the larger health care dimensions of the day, staffed by Patricia Turner from the Atlanta office of the denomination. We focused on assisting congregations with locally based church health centers and advocating for health care reform. We partnered before the reunion with the United Presbyterians with the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association of UPCUSA. There we sought to increase the focus on health care issues in their annual conferences. They reflected significant aspects of the Underwood Report of years earlier concerning the Church, University and Social Policy. Many were from colleges and universities.

Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, at the dedication of the Health and Welfare Building in the nation’s capital said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped. In 1976, a report of the Presbyterian Health Network, authored for the Health Network by Albert Keller—a pastor and minister in medical education”[2] in Charleston, S.C—went to the General Assembly. Its preface:

Health and the provision of health are priority concerns… The issue of health points to the basic assumptions about the nature and value of human life. For this reason the Church has a compelling interest in that debate: at a fundamental level, that debate is theological. In giving serious attention to the meaning of health and to the social structure by which health care is delivered to people, we, the Church, acknowledge our unexcelled opportunity to declare the Gospel at a level of deep personal concern to our communities.[3]

That theme, of health and healing being an “unexcelled opportunity,” stuck with us and with many elements of the church as we worked together in the ‘80s to address the need for controlling health care costs and assuring access to quality health care for the nation. We knew the costs kept soaring far above the inflation level, and the issues were fundamental to ministries of the Church of Christ. A stimulus was the increasing costs to the Church’s Board of Pensions, with the medical coverage included. But it was not the only reason. In 1980, the national health bill was $248.1 billion, 9.1% of GDP. In 1986 it was $458 billion and 10.9% GDP. As this is written in 2014, national expenditures approach $3 Trillion, and 20% of GDP. We still spend twice as much per person as other industrial nations without arranging as they do in assuring every citizen the care needed.

The Presbyterian Church along with other religious communities over the years had continued to provide health and healing ministries through medical services. As in years past Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Methodists, 7th Day Adventists and others had many hospitals bearing their names, nationally and internationally. Many bore the names but were no longer denominationally connected. The tradition continued. As example, Rush Presbyterian St. Luke’s in Chicago, or Lutheran General, Presbyterian Hospitals in NY, Pennsylvania and California. We recognized, too, that such modest services by religious communities could not accomplish what the nation required. We knew we had to support national policies and programs that met the needs of the larger society on a just and humane basis, and issued six position papers on health issues from 1960 to 1983.

In 1984, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church authorized and began work through a Task Force on Health Costs and Policies, which was overseen by three agencies: the Advisory Council on Church and Society, International Missions and the Board of Pensions. I was appointed national staff to the Task Force in the spring of 1985, necessitating a move to Philadelphia for three years. Not your grandfather/mother’s campus ministry any more.

The Task Force consulted many policy analysts and authorities. During our three years of study and research, we traveled to Toronto and became informed by the Canadian Health System, met with experts from the School of Public Health at Macalester College, Toronto, and looked at health systems of other nations. As well, we engaged health policy experts and lobbyists from Washington, D.C. We had solid research from university departments and obtained details on health indices from across the nation. We enlisted the partnership of seven presbyteries and four theological seminaries in special projects. The question asked all of us: What would it look like if, at every level of its life, the Presbyterian Church took seriously the health and healing dimensions of the Christian Faith? We conducted surveys of 1835 congregations seeking to discover what was happening in local congregations.

We published in 1988 a book of essays reflecting our efforts, edited by Walter Wiest of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; Health Care and Its Costs: A Challenge to the Church. Fifteen contributors from across the spectrum contributed to the book. Authors came from many higher education institutions: Boston University, Franklin and Marshall College, Pittsburgh Theological, United Theological in New Brighton, Minnesota, Union Theological in Richmond, Colgate Rochester, Medical University of South Carolina, and LSU. Other authors included Dr. Granger Westberg on the role of a congregation in health ministry (who played an important role in our Medical Center Ministry in Chicago), a nurse practitioner and minister, as well as staff. University Press of America was publisher. The Report itself, Life Abundant: Values, Choices and Health Care, was submitted to the 1988 PCUSA General Assembly,

As contract staff, responsibility with the Task Force ended in mid-1988. That left me scrambling to discover what lay in the future, as the time up until mid-year was filled with completing Task Force responsibilities. A professional colleague who lived in Albuquerque, Joan McIver Gibson, then Senior Program Director of the Institute of Public law at the University of New Mexico, suggested an opportunity to “go west, old man.” She also lead annual summer seminars on bioethical and health policy issues at the Presbyterian Church’s Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico. These seminars were a regular feature at Ghost Ranch from the mid-eighties through the nineties. In 1993, Joan served as a member of the White House Ethics Working Group on the Clinton Health Policy Task Force. Dr. Gibson invited me to come to Albuquerque (to take the opportunity available) as a study opportunity with law and med students at the University of New Mexico’s Institute of Law and Public Policy.

Betty and I sold our house in Philadelphia, and moved to Albuquerque (with no guarantees of anything). During this time, I served an interim as Chaplain to the New Mexico Center for the Severely and Profoundly Retarded in Los Lunas. I was later called as part-time pastor to New Life Presbyterian Church—a really interesting and challenging time and a unique congregation. Other involvements involved serving as secretary to the board of Albuquerque Health Care for the Poor and as a member of the Institutional Review Board of St. Joseph’s Hospital.

David McGowan, long-time NCMA/UMHE campus minister at the University of Illinois Chicago developed a nascent Medical Center Ministry supported by the Presbytery of Chicago and the United Methodist Northern Illinois District. In 1990 I accepted a call to become director of the Ministry. A United Methodist pastor, Judith Kelsey Powell pastored the United Church of the Medical Center. The Director of the Medical Center Ministry was to lead ministry at University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) Med School and School of Pharmacy Administration, Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke and Cook County Hospitals. Both the congregation and the Ministry were in the same building in the shadows of the West Side Medical Center complex.

The next five years were a wonderful opportunity to explore what was possible. Health reform was on the national agenda. At the time, there were known to be over 5000 parish nurses across the nation, and was part of a vision led by Dr. Granger Westberg. Dr. Westberg became a member of our MCM Board. Primary and preventive care was emphasized. Lutheran General was a center for the Parish Nurse Network. The University of Kentucky had such emphases. Congregations (such as Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago and Central Presbyterian in Atlanta) were already deeply involved in their own full time and well staffed health ministries.

Our presence in the shadow of the Med Center afforded wonderful and significant opportunity to work in clinical areas with physicians, nurses, and chaplain/bioethicists in Cook County, Rush Presbyterian St. Luke and UIC hospitals. Dr. Homer Ashby—who worked with us on the Task Force on Health Costs—was instrumental in opening doors with McCormick and Lutheran Seminaries, located on the University of Chicago campus. Dr. Ashby and I co-taught a course, The Church as Health Resource, over a period of four years, with a total of 53 students. Many were dual degree students in nursing and ministry or law and ministry. 18 students took fieldwork with us at the West Side Medical Center.

Medical Center Ministries also shared planning and teaching in dual degree efforts at West Side Medical Center and Park Ridge Center. We developed a ten-week multi-disciplinary integrative seminar on the Health Minister/Parish Nurse dual degree with nursing schools at Loyola, North Park, Rush Community Nursing, St. Xavier, McCormick and the University of Chicago Theological Seminaries. With partnering, we were able to utilize a widely diverse and talented faculty for the courses, Including Mary Ann McDermott and Robert O’Gorman of Loyola, Homer Ashby of McCormick Seminary, Linda Edwards of Rush, and important other partners.

Among our interns, Barbara Sittler worked a year with Dr. Dan Brauner-an MCM Board member—in the Geriatrics team at UIC. Dr. Brauner provided preceptorships for two additional students. Kimberly Hawthorne (a dual degree in law and Divinity) worked with First United Church in Oak Park. Her Senior Ministry Project was entitled Sisters in Healing: Patient Stories and Histories of Healers. Stacy Kitahta wrote an excellent reflection from an international perspective, part of which was the Christian Medical Commission of the World Council of Churches. Among the things Elizabeth Robinson took from our course at Seminary was: At the very least, we should emphasize that the community is instrumental in helping the individual to maintain her health. Quoting Albert Keller from Health Care and Its Costs, she writes, as sickness changes everything, healing, as well, changes everything. She concluded: Healing is a relationship event. Healing places a person back in community… In Biblical faith, the creation of community—truthful community, embodying justice, mercy, and centeredness in God—is perhaps the ultimate act of healing. Amy Fleischauer worked with the Park Ridge Center (Second Opinion Magazine) on the issue of physician-assisted suicide. These students had opportunity to minister to patients, and discover the importance of colleagueship with and ministering to medical and nursing staff. We engaged with faculty and students at the UIC School of Pharmacy Administration with Dr. Jack Salmon and others and presented to pharmacy students on ethical issues.

Health Policy issues remained a strong, persistent and divisive issue. Invited to be a member of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, which provided a significant opportunity to continue to explore issues in health reform and health financing issues. Close proximity to the Canadian Health System enabled the group to engage Chicago political leadership in exposure to Canada’s approach to health financing, resulting in a visit by a group of leaders to Toronto to meet with Canadian Public Health experts. Later a Canadian legislator from Manitoba came for a program offered describing the strengths and weaknesses of the system. Dr. Quentin Young, a physician at Cook County and in private practice, led health and Medicine Policy Research. He was an advocate for comprehensive health care reform. He still is at it with a sterling group of colleagues through the work of PNHP, Physicians for A National Health Program, with over 150,000 physicians across the nation. They advocate a Single Payer approach to health reform.

The 1993 205th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church endorsed the principle of a universal health plan for all, giving priority to a single payer system. That system was described as a publicly funded system of privately delivered medical care that includes the establishment of a public financing system, a definition of universal benefits, the establishment of prospective capital improvement budgets, caps on financial expenditures, and oversight of quality control while maintaining the private delivery of direct medical services.

The Church’s task regarding health was seen to affirm and serve the values of compassionate justice in the political economy, as well as a model that leads by example in its own heath ministries. Life Abundant (1988) was noted as supplying theological and biblical roots for such being and advocacy. As in the assumptions of Kenneth Underwood decades before, this was “the responsible community” inventing and evaluating itself. It did so in addressing health care and social policy.

The nurse, physician and health professional are co-ministers and healers, their interventions occurring at some of the most sacred moments in life—birth, death, trauma, even conception… The Church must clearly affirm the ministry of these health professionals within the worshipping and ministering community of faith… Technical competence and human compassion belong side by side in both the religious and secular arena.[4]

In 1995, Medical Center Ministries—at least my part in that era—came to a close when Rush-Presbyterian bought our building and property for its own expansion. The congregation of the United Church of the Medical Center moved a few miles west to the suburbs. After repeated attempts to find a way to continue—MCM was terminated. We explored alternatives with Evangelical Health Systems and other partners, as well as foundations. The share of funds from the sale of the property was to be used only for new property, not programming or staff. We lost our support.

Despite Kenneth Underwood’s recommendations of the ‘60s and ‘70s—for campus ministries to receive increased funding from foundations and governing bodies—special ministries across the board were nevertheless truncated. The imperative to integrate the four historic modes of ministry into a comprehensive concept of the Church’s mission still was ‘a work in progress’. We have focused well on providing persons a faith perspective from which to cope with life’s enduring challenges. We have not done so well in corporate and social ministry. Integration of the four modes of ministry is, as Leo Sandon wrote, “the necessary prerequisite for meaningful mission…”[5]

Called to pastor Shady Grove Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee, beginning in 1996, seemed to be an admission on my part “at last,” some said, to return to the congregation: “the congregation is where the real action is!” As Verlyn Barker has written in his own reflections, there was always much discussion about congregation-based ministry. That was the mantra heard over and over. But the question repeatedly arises, “What would it mean if at every level of our lives we took seriously the implications of the gospel in every setting and situation in which we find ourselves—especially and including those educational centers, medical, nursing and law schools—even schools of business administration—where the ‘best and the brightest’—as well as the least of us—seek to learn what it means to serve the commonweal with their whole being?”

Never one to totally agree with the foregoing, nor to discount the centrality of congregations in moving the church forward, it seemed that institutional ministries for me were now in the rear view mirror. Now, my intention was to be a good pastor and finish out my remaining years before retirement with a wonderful group of folks at Shady Grove. But out of that call grew a number of interesting developments. And with the support of the congregation, things happened.

The Memphis Church Health Center, led by clergy/physician Dr. Scott Morris, was a growing health ministry in Memphis directly providing care to those who were the working poor and without health insurance. The Center provided excellent primary care, pastoral care and excellent referral services provided significant access to specialists across Memphis. Methodist Hospital contributed important resources and support, both physical and human. Dr. Morris was an enthusiastic and convincing leader for the Center. A member of our congregation proposed for Shady Grove to support the ministry through a “Race for Grace,” a 5-K run, begun upon the Congregation’s 40th Anniversary, and continued over the years. The Race was a success. Another resource we were able to provide was for the National Parish Nurse Network out of St. Louis, who needed a place to gather parish nurses in Memphis for education and certification. We did that. I was invited to serve as a faculty member in Bible and Theology for the annual sessions. The commissioning was held in the Sanctuary.

An opportunity arose to teach with a physician colleague at Memphis Theological Seminary entitled, “Health Ministries and the Church”. Dr. James H. Ericson and I did this jointly for two years. Dr. Erickson, an MD, MPH and MS worked with the Civil Air Patrol National Health Program.

The third important area was the ability to encourage and be part of Dr. Tom Feagin’s efforts at Methodist Central Hospital, who led in formation of a Bio Ethics advisory committee for the area. We met regularly at various hospitals, but mostly at Methodist. Over time we formed what was called the Memphis Bioethics Consortium. With the collaboration of many in area hospitals—including City of Memphis Regional Hospital, a strong Veterans’ Administration hospital, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Baptist and others—the Consortium began symposia on various topics that were held, not only in various local hospitals, but also annually at the University of Memphis and Rhodes College. At the University of Memphis, the Consortium sponsored Dr. Larry Churchill (newly arrived at Vanderbilt Med School) for a focus on justice issues in health care reform. In the year 2000, at Rhodes College, the Consortium featured Dr. Al Jonsen, emeritus professor of medicine and ethics from the University of Washington. Dr. Jonsen presented two addresses, the first tracing the history of medical ethics beginnings, “God committees”—dialysis anyone?” and another on how to analyze clinical cases. Dr. Robert Llewellyn, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Rhodes, was a member of the Consortium, hosting us on many occasions, and finally assumed responsibility for leadership. Dr. Feagin retired. So did I. Dr. Rob Llewellyn, at Rhodes College carried on.

The journey—The Thing Itself; the Tapestry of but one aspect of ministry in higher education—sought to be one of responding to both demonstrated need and opportunities presented, inspired by our understanding of what we understood as faithfulness to the task. It reflects a conviction concerning how we practice conveying the Good News, how we show the ways in which values are conveyed in our society beyond the sanctuary and into our schoolhouses and the communities in which we live. For me, it seems to fit what it means to be “doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with God,” discovering the responsiveness of the Samaritan not passing by the one wounded, and of learning and forming life around what love of the neighbor requires.

Thomas F. Mainor         Williamsburg, Virginia   September 12, 2014

A Post Script

Post Retirement Betty and I returned to Williamsburg in 2002. An early opportunity to ‘fail retirement’ was the invitation to teach a course in William and Mary’s Christopher Wren Association’s courses “for life-long learning.” Partnering with two colleagues in Williamsburg—one was director of Olde Towne Medical Center, Judy Knudson, and the other a physician who taught at Yale Medical School for over 20 years, Dr. John Marsh. Our focus was essentially to discuss the issues and advocate for comprehensive health care reform. We felt the nation needed to move toward a “single payer” method of health care reimbursement. We were extremely fortunate to have Neurologist Dr. Thomas Pellegrino of Eastern Virginia Med School join with us for the course for three years. His presentations with us were a wonderful example of a practitioner who combined his understanding of patient advocacy with powerful analyses of health care costs, policies and procedures in very helpful and compelling ways. We were enriched by his wisdom and his willingness to teach with us. Those in our classes were quite responsive. Unfortunately, due to his untimely death, we did not continue to repeat our efforts. His father, Edmund Pellegrino, 92, died in June 2013.

This journey in higher and medical education ministries made possible introductions to many outstanding faculty, scholars and students. In this journey, I found religious and faith perspectives operative in some of the most difficult and painful moments in the lives of patients and families. The privilege of being allowed to engage in the paths that emerged was one for which I shall always share enormous gratitude. Thanks be to God.

[1] Thomas Carson, in Health and Human Values: A Ministry of Theological Inquiry and Moral Discourse by Verlyn l. Barker, p 142, United Ministries in Education, 1987.

[2] Albert Keller was pastor of Circular Church in Charleston, S.C. He was also Associate Professor of Ethics in the Department of Family Medicine at Medical University of South Carolina. He was active in SHHV and wrote articles on healthcare, healing, and bioethics issues as they unfolded in those years.  He recently retired and still lives in Charleston.

[3] From the Preface of the statement on “Health Care: Perspective on the Church’s Responsibility, “General Assembly, Presbyterian Church U.S. (1976).

[4] Thomas F. Mainor, A Biblical and Theological Basis for the Church’s Health Ministries, in Walter Wiest, Editor, Health Care and Its Costs: A Challenge to the Church, University Press of America © 1988, p.226.

[5] Leo Sandon, Christian Century, February 7-14, 1979, p.128


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