Friday, March 24, 2006

The Episcopal Church on Health Care

This is a General Convention year, and I am a General Convention junkie. One of my professional goals is to attend every General Convention, as much as possible at someone else’s expense. I think I’ve made I think I’ve attended six or seven times since 1976 (sometimes with support, sometimes without). As an Alternate Deputy from my diocese I will certainly be in Columbus in June.

Through those years one of my convictions has been that people in the pews don’t know what General Convention says. Resolutions are passed by General Convention on a wide variety of topics. As General Convention is the highest authority of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, those resolutions are the most authoritative statements of the Episcopal Church regarding our beliefs and practices.

And yet people will often be heard to ask, “What does the Church teach?”; or to say, “The Episcopal Church doesn’t stand for anything.” While the General Convention does not commonly get explicit about doctrine per se, the latter statement is simply not true. It may be true that Episcopalians do not know what the Church stands for, largely because clergy in the parish don’t make an effort to communicate the actions of General Convention, and the new media – including too often church and religious services – focus on the high-visibility, hot-button issues. It is not true that the Church in General Convention doesn’t speak.

So, if I’m reflecting on an Episcopal culture for health care, one area of exploration is to reflect on actions of General Convention that speak to health care. In this post I want to raise an action and its consequences.

In 2000 the General Convention passed resolution A079. As an “A” resolution, it was introduced by a committee, specifically the Committee on National and International Concerns. The resolution was discussed in open hearings of the Committee, and a substitute resolution was submitted and passed. You can read the final text here . The resolution directs “Office of the Bishop for the Armed Services, Healthcare and Prison Ministries to convene representatives of the Episcopal healthcare groups… and individuals… to articulate and communicate to public policy makers and the public, the positions of the Episcopal Church with regard to healthcare policy. This will include: advocacy for a healthcare system in which all may be guaranteed decent and appropriate primary healthcare during their lives and as they approach death; keeping abreast of the rapidly changing healthcare market and developments in biomedical research as they affect health-related public policies; collecting, collating, and developing resources and teaching materials related to access to healthcare for the use of dioceses, congregations, and individuals;…”

This resolution had two direct results. The first was the Formative Symposium on Health Care, held July 6 through 8, 2001, at the College of Preachers. The Formative Symposium, at its conclusion, issued a statement, which I include in full:

Formative Symposium: A New Vision

We are a group of thirty-five (35) people dedicated to healing ministries who were called together by Bishop Packard at the College of Preachers in Washington, DC, for the purpose of attempting to discover a new vision of health and health care for the Episcopal Church in response to the resolution A079a, adopted at the General Convention, 2000.

We commit ourselves to continuing action in the following five areas:

1) Theology/Vision
a) Articulate a vision of health and health care reflecting both our Episcopal roots and our vision of God's call
b) Listen to Episcopalians in all walks of life to cultivate a theology of health
c) Foster listening and dialogue with all God's people to enrich a theology of health
d) Prepare additional theological materials about health, reflecting our tradition and involving academics, policy analysts, executives, health professionals and clergy
e) Create and identify public spaces for discourse on issues of theology and health

2) Structure
a) Establish an office of health policy, education and bioethics which will
(1) coordinate networking and resources,
(2) disseminate existing materials,
(3) support the creation of new materials for education and advocacy,
(4) research and assist with other health activities,
(5) consult and advise within the church,
(6) work in collaboration with the Bishop and
b) Establish and coordinate an advisory council

3) Education
a) Identify and raise up already existing health programs
b) Develop adult curricula and materials on health which utilize a variety of media, including the internet
c) Affirm supervised clinical education for clergy formation
d) Encourage bishops to support clergy education on health issues
e) Encourage bishops to ensure the ongoing education of clergy through a minimum number of CEU's per year
f) Request Bishop Packard to assist in the provision of education on health issues for new Bishops
g) Develop health education materials using an interdisciplinary approach for seminarians and healthcare professionals

4) Networking
a) Network and partner with all groups willing to share in promoting the best possible health and health care for all persons
b) Request the Bishop for Armed Services, Healthcare and Prison Ministries to write letters cultivating partnership and/or participation to the following:
(1) National organizations representing health professions and consumers
(2) Diocesan bishops encouraging them to invite local health care professionals and providers to network
c) Inform local clergy and health ministers about resources
d) Encourage congregations to network and partner on a local level

5) Advocacy
a) Bring health issues to the attention of congress by using the many resources of the Church including Resolutions of the General Convention and Executive Council through the Office of Government Relations
b) Direct corporate advocacy toward state and local governments
c) Commend dioceses and congregations to take on the role of advocacy at federal, state and local governments
d) Call Episcopalians to participate personally in the health advocacy ministries of our Church
e) Promote health issues within the structures of the Episcopal Church

Hereunto we affix our signatures on the 5th Sunday of Pentecost, July 8, 2001.

I was honored to be a participant in the Symposium and a signatory of the New Vision statement.

I know this a long piece to post, but I think it’s worth reading for those of us who want to know how the Church has spoken to health care. There have been other results of resolution A079 in 2000, and I will address them in another post. However, I think the vision we articulated in the Symposium remains relevant today, and reflects well what can result from actions of General Convention.

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