CHURCHES working in health-care institutions need to work
sensitively and transparently, a new report from the Anglican
Health Network says.
But their ministry is needed: patients are suffering the
ill-effects of "dehumanisation" in the health service because faith
is undervalued in the secular world of modern medicine, it
Prepared in advance of a conference on the health-mission and
healing ministries of churches in April, the report Faith in
Health and Healing: Integrating the Church with health
services suggests that "the denuding of compassionate,
spiritual care in favour of an increasingly secularised scientific
interventionism has been detrimental to the notion of holistic
wellbeing." People should "not be treated as mere biomechanical
The report includes an overview of the historical relationship
between the Church and medicine, noting that, as the latter devised
new treatments and cures, it might have "replaced religion as the
primary source of hope and salvation".
Medicine has "not lived up to expectations", however, and the
challenge to health today lies in "personal and communal
behaviours". Churches might be able to play a part in preventative
medicine by helping people to make changes to their lifestyles; and
Christian experience has "resources to support people in pain, and
to strengthen them to die".
The report suggests that "faith is in fact becoming more valued
in the pursuit of health", and cites examples of churches and
Christians engaging in health mission.
It suggests that "the language and action of healing may . . .
provide a less threatening paradigm in which the Church can engage
in its holistic mission." It warns, however, that "there may be a
popular perception that religious institutions act conditionally,
in order to evangelise. This needs sensitive and transparent
handling, where a Christian institution is in danger of perceived
partiality and exploitation of the vulnerable."
Delivering health services as part of the NHS's "mixed economy",
a controversial development, also requires a considered approach,
the report argues, to avoid "simply being opportunistic . . .
churches should not be naïve about the political and professional
interests at stake."
The report recognises the challenges in addressing people's
spiritual needs in the health service: "It is feared that any
partiality about spiritual matters shown by the clinician may
become harmful." Prayer, it says, remains particularly
controversial: it "introduces transcendence, and crosses boundaries
that are constructed to maintain secular space".
It is, however, "incumbent upon churches to reassert the true
nature of personhood". The examples of Burrswood Christian Hospital
in Kent, and of Christian GPs who have "become increasingly
confident in establishing overtly Christian practices", are
Last Friday, the Revd Paul Holley, Co-ordinator of the Anglican
Health Network, said he suspected most health professions would
hold back from offering prayer: "There is a great deal of
uncertainty about the place of prayer in a clinical relationship.
It doesn't sit neatly within the realms of scientific
More information about the Faith in Health and Healing
conference is here