Cancer touches many, but care ministries are few
LAKELAND – It was recorded in a different church, in a different state, but the video message resonated with Rev. Ron Hubbard and his wife of 52 years, Josephine, as they watched with other United Methodists.
In a matter of minutes, a story unfolded on screen of a Christian who lost her battle with cancer but never her faith in God. It revealed the way her church family reached out to her and how that infused her with the will to keep going. It chronicled the reactions of her equally devout husband, who wrestled with anger and helplessness as he watched his wife in pain and asked God, “Why her?”
The story was much like the experience of the Hubbards when Josephine was diagnosed with colon cancer three years ago. She leads a prayer ministry at Keeney Chapel UMC in Clair-Mel City, just east of Tampa, where her husband is pastor.
“Her spiritual background, her relationship with God made it easier for her,” the pastor conceded. “She resigned it to the Lord. I was like, ‘Why her?’”
That’s not unusual, said Rev. Chip Gordon, pastoral care director at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Newnan, Georgia. Though often cancer patients react to their diagnosis and treatment with intense anger, frequently it is the caregiver who can’t accept the situation while the patient puts his or her fate in the Lord’s hands.
Despite the many patients and their families, caregivers and friends affected by cancer, few churches have active cancer care ministries, Gordon said.
His mission is to change that.
Gordon and Connie Singleton, spiritual outreach coordinator at CTCA, visited the Florida United Methodist Center last week at the invitation of Rev. Harold Lewis, Justice & Multicultural Ministries director for the Florida Conference. Lewis said he and his wife, Janet, discovered CTCA’s “Our Journey of Hope” program while she was receiving treatment for cancer at the center near Atlanta.
Gordon and Lewis are inviting Florida Conference pastors or church ministry leaders to sign up for the treatment center’s next training in how to start a cancer care ministry scheduled for Nov. 12-13. The training and lodging are free, and Lewis said he is trying to arrange transportation.
The Hubbards, who have been in ministry together for more than 30 years, say they want to sign up.
Josephine has been cancer-free since completing her treatments. She said the support of her family and her faith in the power of prayer made all the difference when she had cancer, and she wants to share comfort and prayer with others.
“That’s the way I came through,” she said. “By people and support based on the word of God.”
Others in the group of about 20 who came to Lakeland to hear the presentation also had survived a bout with cancer. They said they want to use their insights to “give back” and help others facing the deadly illness.
Cancer Care Ministry trainingRev. Harold Lewis of the Florida Conference is organizing a trip to Cancer Treatment Centers of America near Atlanta Nov. 12-13 for on-site training. Contact Lewis at 1-800-282-8011, ext. 346, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some, like Rev. Heather Harding, pastor of Edge Memorial UMC, Groveland, said they were interested in finding a new ministry for their congregation. Gordon noted that a cancer care ministry can fill critical needs in and out of the church and can be adapted for community outreach.
A show of hands indicated nearly everyone in the room knew people in their congregation who had had a brush with cancer. No hands went up when Gordon asked if anybody’s church had a cancer care ministry.
That’s the response he typically gets when he makes presentations, Gordon said.
“Cancer touches everybody in some form or fashion,” he said.
American Cancer Society statistics indicate one out of two American men and one out of three American women will face cancer, he said. In clergy surveys, cancer surfaced as one of the major issues pastors are called to help with on a regular basis, yet most pastors said they don’t have adequate resources to offer the solace and guidance church members need to cope with cancer.
Despite obvious need, cancer care hasn’t caught on as a church ministry because the illness inspires fear in people, Gordon said.
“People don’t know what to say,” he said. “They don’t know how to act.”
The CTCA program can change that by walking people through the medical and spiritual journey of a typical cancer patient, Gordon said. The program includes lessons from oncologists and practical information about hospital visitation, as well as a spiritual component.
“We know that hope doesn’t come through a medical oncologist,” he told listeners at the Florida United Methodist Center. “Hope doesn’t come through a … bag of chemo. Hope comes through Jesus Christ.”
In the past year, nearly 600 pastors, church staff or lay volunteers have received “Our Journey of Hope” training, representing about 400 churches across the country, Gordon said.
The training starts with two people from a church receiving on-site presentations at a participating CTCA site. If they decide to continue, they receive access to eight weeks of small group lessons aimed at starting a cancer care ministry.
Gordon warned that working with cancer patients is not “for the faint of heart.”
“It’s got to be somebody with a passion,” he said. “Cancer is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. It’s a long, long illness, and many times we find that churches don’t know how to minister to people.”
Ideas can include encouragement for people to continue attending worship services whenever possible, as well as ministry participants visiting cancer patients at home. Church members also can help the patients’ caregivers with meals, lawn care, house cleaning and other needs that might otherwise go neglected while the family is dealing with the medical crisis.
“This is not a support group,” Gordon said. “There may be a support group that’s part of it.”
For information about Florida Conference participation in the upcoming training at CTCA in Newnan, contact Harold Lewis at (800) 282-8011, ext. 346, or email@example.com. For information about the CTCA program and future training opportunities, visit www.ourjourneyofhope.com.
– Susan Green is the Florida Conference managing editor.