Health related agencies at the county level were the first and the most frequent to initiate conversions to gain the capacity for Regional Clergy Engagement to engage congregations as the conduit to constituents. To health professionals, this is a core goal of health related initiatives – disseminating health related information and maximizing community residents’ use of health programs.
Conversations also extended to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and a growing list of State of California departments and statewide institutions.
The following statement is contained in an HHS request for grant proposal:
Many national organizations serve as trusted community sources – where families go to participate in programs and come together to talk about important issues and build partnerships for action. While other pieces of the CPPW target funding go to local and state governments, HHS recognizes a national prevention movement will require additional leaders. This new opportunity creates a model public-private partnership to make and sustain important changes in communities.
This statement reflects a clear awareness of the need for an innovative capacity for personal engagement, one that is epitomized by the clergy and congregations in the neighborhoods of every local community.
However, there is a disconnect in this HSS statement. The first sentence which epitomizes the national, state and regional misdirection which has prevents achieving the benefit envisioned from access to these organizations.
“National organizations” are not “trusted community resources- where families go.”
Health professions providing service in the local community know this. They know clergy and congregations are the pervasive trusted community resources- where families go. They also know that their efforts to engage congregations have had limited scope and length of congregation engagement.
This was the Peninsula Community Foundation’s motivation for the initiative to discover how to achieve Regional Clergy Engagement. It was their observation that the only sector that lacked a cohesive entity which served as a link to the professional leadership cadre was the “religion sector.” This would present obstacles to engagement with any sector. For the denominationally and geographically fragmented religion sector the necessity of a unified point of engagement was essential.
The value of congregation engagement, as well as, the systemic inability to achieve access and coordination of Congregation Based Resources (CBR) is well established. What follows is how “health” benefited from the success in establishing that comprehensive relationship based on that key hypothesis, the capacity to achieve a structural design to comprehensively engage all clergy by region.
This benefit may be best demonstrated in examining a County Health System’s Division of Environmental Health process in the implementation a Center for Disease Control (CDC) grant which included a public awareness component. In a three month consultation contract, working with the Environmental Health (EH), we framed a model process of “Congregation Based Constituent Engagement” for the multiple divisions within Health Systems.
The one page summary of the process is included here. The key components are the convening by the EH project director of an “Agency Representative Team,” of all HS divisions. Each representative was briefed on the newly designed system to engage congregations in community awareness and asked to indicate critical health issues for which (a) they would benefit from greater constituent awareness of the issue and (b) clergy would benefit from greater awareness of that resources for congregants.
This information was compiled by the EH staff in an exemplary flier with a sampling of all eight HS service areas, websites and phone contact.
A Partnership with the county health system and the Peninsula Clergy Network
To increase awareness and access to County Health System services throughout the Peninsula…
The second phase in this process was a session convened session with EH staff and ten clergy representing the county diversity of denomination, demographic and geography, as well as clergy serving specific cohorts of young adults and seniors. In this session, utilizing the flier, the EH project director shared with clergy the role of the HS Divisions and committed to providing any needed assistance in accessing the staff of any Division.
Each clergyperson shared congregation based observations which they encounted which related to health.
This included the report of an individual clergy person, a veteran, that he carried information cards on the local veteran centers and housing locations. In conversation in and out of the church, he made sure to ask any veteran if he knew where the resources were in the county. Commented a colleague in the room, “So, in addition to saying, glad you served, I should add that information. I never would have thought of it.” Another clergy, “If every Peninsula clergy person was as thoughtful as you are about engaging veterans and with that specific information at their fingertips…”
A critical example shared by another clergy person is a congregation based monthly health screening on Sunday between worship services. Other clergy in that area talked of a weekly rotation of screenings. HS staff offered technical assistance to add a screening option and provide greater referral to residents for follow up. Options were suggested for partnering with local drug stores which provide screening and immunizations.
One clergy person observed, “I can’t keep track of the dozens of brochures I get from agencies about health issues and resources.” The Religion Sector Specialist shared that that the regional clergy network *RCN) website contained a link to a county produced guide to all county and nonprofit services by category. The EH staff referenced 211 hotline, which was recently launched in the county with a major promotion campaign. No clergy person in the room knew what 211 was. The RSS indicated that the 211 website link was also on the RCN website, and the link to the website of the county, every city and every school district.
The clergy person who served young adults had not shared and when asked, he indicated a limited need by young adults. A clergy commented on his awareness of a shocking lack of any health insurance among his young adult daughter’s friends. “You are right, I do hear that.” The EH staff informed the group that the county based coverage of all children had recently been extended to all adults.
Of all the benefits which emerged from the conversation, the most unexpected outcome was the clergy response to the EH staff statement acknowledgement the reason for the CDC grant. He shared the grants purpose of the reduction of the chicken born disease, CAMPY, found in 7 of 10 chickens when not properly prepared. For regulated food establishments, training was required for the proper food preparation. This does not include congregations. “7 of 10!!” At that point, clergy asked if they could request training for those in their congregations who prepared food for festivals, weekly worship dinners, auxiliary lunches, religious school, etc. – The answer was yes.
Wishing I had a video of the clergy session, I headed for the EH project director, “You are fantastic. You have transformed the professional scope of the clergy in serving the congregation and in serving the community. We have changed the capacity to significantly increase health as a priority among constituents community-wide. Now what we need now is $100,000 accomplish the full scale of what we can see is possible”
At that point the contract concluded. No further implementation of the successful pilot design or further benefit of the transformational outcomes. The CDC is not cognizant of the fact that they funded $6,000 for this unprecedented pilot in “Congregation Based Constituent Engagement.”
Rabbi Jay Miller Religion Sector 3.0
1.0 On the Town Square 2.0 Walls of Separation
3.0 Alignment: Among Congregations – Within Society