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Synod of the Covenant webinar explores a provocative question: Can our faith make us well?

It can and it does, according to the organization Science for the Church

April 26, 2023

The Rev. Drew Rick-Miller

When Jesus assures the woman who’d suffered 12 years from a flow of blood that “your faith has made you well,” he was stating a truth that applies to people of faith today as well, according to the Rev. Drew Rick-Miller.

Rick-Miller, project co-director for Science for the Church, led a webinar last week for the Synod of the Covenant on how faith and faith practices contribute to people’s well-being. Rick-Miller’s hourlong talk can be viewed here.

Rick-Miller, a pastor who studied physics as an undergraduate, made the case for clergy and other faith leaders to keep in mind that the nation’s mental health crisis is big and growing. Nine in 10 Americans, one poll found, are aware of the crisis. “Not all [struggles] are solely mental health issues,” Rick-Miller said, “but it’s certainly a contributing factor.” One in five U.S. residents has a diagnosed mental health illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “This is a severe crisis,” Rick-Miller said, “and in the church we feel it.”

For Rick-Miller, many questions have been studied and some warrant further study: Does what we do in the church help us? Can the things we do every day in church enhance our health? Is there benefit to the things church leaders do to nurture Christian disciples? Can scientists measure it? Does our faith make us well?

“Our bodies are remarkably good at healing on their own,” Rick-Miller said, “but there are instances when we need help, from science and directly from God.” Much of the healing we experience “comes from God working through our bodies and through medical professionals and the treatments they’ve created,” he said. “It’s a both/and perspective.”

No less an authority than the Mayo Clinic concluded that “most studies have shown that religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes, including greater longevity, coping skills and health-related quality of life, even during long-term illness, and less anxiety, depression and suicide,” Rick-Miller noted. “Several studies have shown that addressing the spiritual health needs of the patient may enhance recovery from illness.”

A Harvard study focusing on teenagers indicated that participating in church lowered depression by 12% and going to church made them 87% more forgiving and 38% more likely to volunteer.

“All this research has medical researchers asking a fascinating question,” Rick-Miller said. “Should doctors prescribe church?”

Here’s an answer from Harvard medical researcher Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, writing in USA Today in 2016:

“If one could conceive of a single elixir to improve the physical and mental health of millions of Americans at no personal cost, what value would our society place on it?

Photo by Patty Brito via Unsplash

“Going a step further, if research quite conclusively showed that when consumed just once a week, this concoction would reduce mortality by 20-30% over a 15-year period, how urgently would we want to make it publicly available?

“The good news is that this miracle drug — religion, and more specifically regular church attendance — is already in reach of most Americans. In fact, there’s a good chance it’s just a short drive away.”

What is it about the things we do in church that helps religious people live longer and have reduced stress, anxiety and depression?

“The most common answer is community support,” Rick-Miller said. “In a healthy church, it’s hard for people to be lonely. Human beings are created to be in relationship.”

Religious patients are more likely to follow up on treatment. They typically drink less alcohol and use drugs less frequently. They smoke less and are more likely to wear their seatbelts. “Caring for our bodies that are fearfully and wonderfully made is a factor that contributes to why we have these benefits,” Rick-Miller said.

Rick-Miller asked those participating in the webinar not to hear him saying that everyone in faith communities “receives the benefits” enumerated above. “People in church get cancer and experience depression. People of faith are not immune from illness and suffering of all sorts,” he said. “But there do seem to be some benefits pretty generally and pretty widely to what we do in church.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Synod of the Covenant webinar

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Teresa Bidart, Bilingual Mission Specialist, Self-Development of People, Compassion, Peace & Justice, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Ricky Blade, Customer Service Consultant, Communications Ministry, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

Almighty and Everlasting God, strengthen the church so it may witness to your faithfulness, build communities passionately committed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Inspire individuals with the fire of your Holy Spirit and bless this work to your glory. Amen.

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