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Churches, Worship, and People in Crisis

Sometimes all people need is someone to listen to them. In our small, independent medical practice we have 30 minute appointments and often run behind because our patients need the time to talk. It helps us better understand how their lives impact their health, and it builds their trust in our care for them. Sometimes they come to us for their routine follow up when they are in crisis. We don’t cut them off and rush them out the door; we let them tell their story. They are not looking for medical advice, or any advice at all. They just need someone to listen.

Working in Family Practice has allowed me to do this on a regular basis with patients. Working in the emergency department, I would do the same thing but rarely did I see anyone more than once. Co-workers and department heads keep a close eye on patient throughput and frown upon such practices that slow clinicians down. I supposed hospital-owned outpatient practices do much the same. Sure, patient greatly appreciate having their appointments at the scheduled time and quick service–until they are having the crisis and they want to talk. They appreciate that far more and are sympathetic when they know they waited because others needed it.

MedPage published an interesting article, Consult Local Churches for Patients in Crisis. In it, Dr. Edwin Leap points out something we know but few will address:

Rural America, in particular, suffers from too much opioid abuse and too much poverty. Lack of work, loss of culture and connection, and dissolution of the family. All of these plague rural Americans. Mental health issues are thus epidemic, but there are a precious few mental health and social workers.

Part of that “loss of culture” has come about because of a loss of religion. Our common worship of God naturally results in community and culture. God does not need our worship, but he asks us to do it for our own good. “Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath'” (Mark 2:27).

In Catholic churches, we have daily Mass. You can’t help but form bonds with the people you are seeing on a daily basis. Many times has the morning Mass group given me comfort when going through a tough time, and I have the same with others. The article goes on:

What’s an ED to do? We face overwhelming need coupled with federal mandates to take care of everyone, and we are iced over (winter pun intended) with insufficient funds or staff to do it all.


Since I’m writing a lot about rural healthcare, here’s a thought: Rural America tends to be more religious than urban and suburban America. And as a Southerner, I can attest that “you can’t swing a cat” in small towns or rural areas without hitting a church of some flavor.

He goes on to express the same thing I have seen as well:

Many of the mental health issues I have encountered in my career seem to ultimately stem from personal pain and loneliness. While I’m not denigrating the importance of those who work in mental health professions, I would say that often enough, connection and love are therapies of inestimable value.

I found it somewhat surprising to see such views expressed in a popular medical resource.

Religion has always been seen throughout history as something that is good for society, that is, a Common Good. That is because our human nature desires to know our Creator and to be in community; worshipping God fulfills these basic human needs.

Our government and medical system cannot possibly care for the overwhelming distress in our society. Perhaps we have so much of it because we got away from religion in the first place.