Consecrating a hope, not just a space


On Monday and Tuesday we experienced a most remarkable flow of blessing as the Center of Excellence in Faith and Health was blessed, celebrated and consecrated. Bishop William Young leading in prayer, Dr. Ralph and Barbara Hamilton lending their support, Rev. Steve Miller blessing the hands of clergy (even me!).

Here are my comments; others to follow:

I must give a personal word of thanks to the many present who have made this space sacred by their creative gifts of every possible kind. And to the most remarkable staff of our division who do the daily work of caring, teaching, prayer and research–wrestling with ideas and data until they turn into smart program. I am an ordained guy from Atlanta who writes books. I would be easily ignored in a busy hospital, if were not for the sparkling quality of their work. That is the true credibility on which this Center rests.


When we started this journey several years ago, I imagined someone asking me “so, where’s the excellence?” I wanted to be able to say, “go look to the family and ask them. It should be present in their lives.” The families helped us get the design right along the way. The family care center is testimony to their guidance, especially the learning spaces so crucial to helping the families with knowledge when they need it. It is important to say that the space makes possible the participation of volunteers who come from our 329 covenant congregations. And the volunteers learn as they serve, enhancing the capacity of those congregations to be places of caring and healing far beyond our walls.

This is the virtuous circle which carries us: more partners, more aligning of strengths and more blending of intelligences. This enables us to do things together that no other hospital or community can aspire to do.


This special room is all about innovation, so let me say a word about that. A lot of what passes for innovation in healthcare is expensive bangles and beads. Innovation is about doing different things, not trying harder at old things.

Nothing could be more obviously needed or difficult to do than changing the relationship between the hospital and the community. This is social innovation, cheaper, but harder than plugging — or unplugging — another medical device. Any innovation, technical or social, rests on a blend of imagination, intelligence and evidence. The blender for the Memphis Model is the Innovation Studio at the heart of the Center of Excellence in Faith and Health right near the front door of Methodist University Hospital. This is where the 329 congregations are trained in the arts of connection and caring; here the real-time analysis of many forms of data, here technology connects us with experts working the same challenges in Cape Town, Tubingen, Oslo, or Vellore. This kind of innovation isn’t free, but infinitely cheaper than doing the wrong thing or missing big opportunities to do the right thing.

And where is the faith? The whole story is faith: blending our faith-based hospital, with faith-based primary ministries like Church Health Center and Christ Community Health Services. But the true health system is the hundreds of congregations that surround our medical sites with caring, comfort and healing. These are the primary partners led by clergy who have already been generous with their intelligence and lending us their most precious gift, their trust.

Joycelyn Elders once said this kind of work is like dancing with a bear: you don’t sit down when you get tired, but when the bear gets tired. The bear is not tired. But together, we dare believe that we can bend the curve of brutal health data that maps the patterns of death in Memphis today.

So we today consecrate not just a space, but the hope the space serves. Every bit of carpet, fabric and art sings out the word of life, as does the light that washes the space. This is God’s imagination at work, I believe, imagining a community beloved and whole and healthy.


May God protect and empower us as we move.

– Posted on the journey

About garygunderson

Vice President, Faith Health, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. Author, Leading Causes of Life, Deeply Woven Roots, Boundary Leaders and Religion and the Heath of the Public. Secretary, Stakeholder Health (Health Systems Learning Group).
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