Dr. Trace Haythorn: Health Care and Pastoral Leadership

Health Care and Pastoral Leadership

Martin Copenhaver's recent contribution to The Christian Century ("Role Reversal: Pastor as Patient," August 25, 2009, pp. 30-33) could not be more timely in what it lends to the healthcare debate, even though I'm certain that is not the intent of the article. His contribution comes primarily in what he doesn't ponder. For example, he doesn't spend time exploring how his care would be different if it came under a publicly funded plan. Of course, he doesn't have to wonder about such a thing because he has acceptable health care. And he doesn't spend any time discussing who will pay for his care; he's simply grateful to receive the care. In fact, the crux of the article never even touches on the issue of health care or health insurance or reform of anything except the reforming of his own heart in relation to his role, his expectation of others, and his willingness to let the experience inform his ministry in constructive ways.

Of course, I expect having had this experience, Martin has a particular empathy for those who do not have health care. He knows what it would have been like to pay for such care without the kind of support he is able to access through insurance. He is among the fortunate. But there are an increasing number of pastors who are not so fortunate. Many churches and denominations can no longer afford to provide health care for their pastors, leaving individuals to search the best deal they can find. There was a time when the office of pastor was understood as a service to the whole community, one which was valued and supported in ways that allowed the clergy to serve without the overwhelming burdens of health care, education and even housing to leave them wondering if they can make it financially.

Representations of prosperity gospel preachers in the media shape public perceptions of what resources are available to all members of the clergy, but the reality for many pastors is a life of month to month, hand to mouth budgeting and sacrifice. While I'm certain many of them have great reservations about a public health care option, I am also convinced that their needs will increasingly shape their views as this debate proceeds. Health care reform will likely be a part of our national (and even global) debate until we craft processes and practices that are rooted in wellness, prevention and compassion. My prayer is that even as heated arguments continue, somewhere we might hear in our collective conscious a call to create a society where "even the least of these" has been served faithfully. And at FTE, we're doing our best to notice, name and nurture the leaders of just such a community.

[Taken with permission from FTE's "On Call" Blog]