Gary Gunderson - See God's Imagination at Living Awards

Published On 09/01/2011

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

For some, faith is like a tether reminding them of who they used to be, of what has been valuable in their past. And how can that be wrong? But it is not hard to see the past in Memphis, especially for those working in health. Every day the bruises, wounds and inevitable consequences of yesterday’s choices show up in our clinics and hospitals. As Faulkner said, the problem with the past is that it’s not in the past. The scientists speak of “fundamental determinants of health” meaning the social, economic and personal choices that shape the patterns of diabetes, violence, heart, stroke and mental stresses–the past that shapes today. Can faith help us see the future?

Where can we see God’s imagination at work?

A good place to see what the future is trying to become is Thursday night at the Living Awards, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s signature award dinner honoring a handful of people and organizations whose lives inspire us to see what is not yet seen so that we can do what we have not yet done. We are already a pretty good hospital; indeed, the US News once again says that we’re the best in the region. But we know we are just warming up. So where most award dinners applaud noble people for they’ve done already. The Living Awards is quite different; it helps us ask “what if?” and honors those who help us see what might be possible.

To start with the most obvious, The Church Health Center, one of Memphis’ jewels that has already received awards from almost everyone who has one to give. We’re raising them up to view because they tease our curiosity with a simple question: what if our 10,000 Associates were as focused on the singular mission of bringing the highest possible care to those with hardly any means to pay? They aren’t the only ones in town with that mission—indeed, no hospital in Tennessee, public or private takes care of more than Methodist–, but the Church Health Center pursues mission in a way that inspires us. We are a hospital with strong ties to The United Methodist Church with a Center of Excellence on Faith and Health, What if all the faith institutions, congregations, clinics and hospitals were as radically committed to our shared mission as the $14 million dollar Church Health Center is to theirs? What would be possible to imagine then? And what if we were seamlessly linked with each other so that nobody in need fell outside our web of caring. Why not?

Likewise, Dr. Bob Waller is a man best known for his radical work at The Mayo Clinic, known for unequalled quality of care through seamless integration of its physicians around the needs of patients it attracts from all over the world. And it attracts donors from all over the world, too, to little Rochester Minnesota, a lot harder to find on the map than Memphis. Why Rochester and not Memphis? Most of its physicians weren’t born in that small town; they had to be attracted there because of a vision that literally moved them there. What if we had such a vivid vision of health that it captured the imagination of even more professionals from all over the world to want to come alongside us and commit their lives to it?

This is not only in God’s imagination. Because of Drs. Waller and Morris, Memphis is now becoming a demonstration site of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s “triple aim”: showing how to achieve community-wide savings in cost, improvement and quality and advancing the health of the whole population.

Part of the reason we are attracting such bold hopes is because so much of what matters in Memphis is owned by faith institutions or influenced by leaders with clear personal faith convictions. Faith allows us to see what is possible, and then it holds us accountable to making the choices that lead there.

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s core values are service, quality, integrity and teamwork. Recently, we adopted a fifth core value: innovation. Proceeds from the Living Awards benefit the Methodist Center of Excellence in Faith and Health, one of our health system’s most recent innovations. The mission of the Center of Excellence in Faith and Health is to teach, learn, train, explore and research the innovative practices that flow from the blended intelligences of faith and the health sciences. More than 400 events have been held there since the center opened in February including trainings every Thursday evening for hundreds of congregations that are then video cast to Methodist Germantown where dozens more are not just talking about, but preparing to implement the innovative care we all want. God’s imagination at work? Yes.

Gary Gunderson, D. Min., M.Div., is the senior vice president for Faith and Health Ministries at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, and a member of the Faith in Memphis panel. This is reprinted from Faith in Memphis.