Mennonite Faith & Healthcare Vocations

Reflections from Cate

 

I came to the Mennonite church days before I turned 21. That was 10 years ago. In some ways that seems like a lifetime ago, and in many other ways I know I am (and perhaps forever will be) a “Menno-Baby.” 

From day one at Madison Mennonite Church, it was so clear to me that Mennonites are a people who serve. 

I can’t tell you how many times I heard repeated in that congregation: We are the people of the Sermon on the Mount. Mennonites, I learned, are a people who not only believe in Jesus, but prioritize discipleship of Jesus in every area of their lives.

Even in my earliest days as a Mennonite, I understood that discipleship required not just my Sunday mornings and occasional Wednesday evening, but every area of my life: vocation included. 

One might think that for a young adult, just out of college and very much questioning the Christian faith I was raised in at the time, this call to a deep and at times difficult discipleship might have had me running. In fact, it had the opposite effect. It was so refreshing, as a young adult beginning to envision and form my adult life and faith, to witness Christians taking faith so seriously that every aspect of their lives was integrated with faith.

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I offer these reflections on my coming to the Mennonite church to illustrate how, for me, from the very beginning of understanding Anabaptism, a core component of discipleship involved vocation and work.

This call to integrate faith and work goes far beyond us pastor-types — if one can even properly say that when Anabaptist faith has long emphasized the priesthood of all believers. This call is for all of us. 

I am unbelievably excited to be involved with Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship in this capacity as Executive Director. First and foremost because I cannot imagine a time in which reflection on the role of faith in our calling to serve as healthcare providers has been more important.

I believe in the necessity of spaces like Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship at this moment and beyond it. I believe Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship is not only for uplifting the possibilities for faithful whole-life discipleship of Jesus through the healthcare professions but also as a catalyst for the resilience and revival of healthcare as a profession and institution beyond the Mennonite Church.

Discipleship & Healthcare 

What does a robust integration of Anabaptist Faith & Values into one’s own call to a Healthcare Vocation practically look like?

The motto of MHF’s Membership Campaign this last year has been “Join the Conversation” – so in no way are these meant as a definitive declaration of MHF’s position, but only my own attempts at joining the conversation of MHF. I’m also recycling, because I think recycling quality materials is helpful in theology as well as environmental stewardship, and drawing upon Palmer Becker’s original conception of Anabaptist Christianity.

Jesus is the Center of Our Faith

What does it mean to hold Jesus as the Center of Our Faith as healthcare professionals?

For me, this has two pieces:

1. Remembering that every word and action of mine towards my patients and the staff I serve are a reflection of the Gospel. Am I reflecting this liberating, abundant, welcoming, saving Gospel of Jesus Christ in my work and my words? Even when I’m frustrated by bureaucracy! Even when I’m working from home and calling patients on the phone! This is often a sobering question for me – but also a good reminder of God’s grace and ability to use me regardless of my shortcomings.

2. I believe we hold Jesus at the center of our Faith and our Vocation when we participate in Jesus’s healing ministry. Jesus spent a lot of time in the Gospels healing people. In the story of John 9, for instance, Jesus had zero patience with the Pharisees using a blind man simply as an object lesson for sin and consequence, and instead bent down, took mud, and practically healed him. Then Jesus went further and restored the blind man to his community of faith and followed him to restore his soul as well. How is our work in healthcare extending the healing ministry of Jesus physically, socially, and spiritually? Jesus often addressed the physical first, but he never stopped there.

One of the things I love about Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship is the inclusiveness of all healthcare professionals. This reflects the healing ministry of Jesus that looked towards healing the whole person – a task that requires all of us, regardless of our specialty or discipline.

Reconciliation is the Center of Our Work

Not prestige. Not money. Not convenience or ease.

Reconciliation. 

Above I wrote about how the healing ministry of Jesus was beyond a ministry of physical healing and one of reconciliation of persons socially and spiritually as well. Another way I think about this from a Mennonite perspective is when I notice the preponderance of violence metaphors in healthcare today. I work in pediatrics and frequently in pediatric oncology – the language of “fight” “beat” “battle” is constant.

What would it mean to explore metaphors more in line with our identity as Christians upholding an ethic of non-violence in healthcare?

I also think that this aspect of Anabaptism is one of the “hard teachings” that I was attracted to when I first joined the Mennonite church but isn’t always easy to follow! By keeping reconciliation as the center of our work, that means at times that what we do for work will change. As we consider where we can best serve in healthcare settings, we may find God calling us to be ministers of reconciliation in places and spaces – and with far less money – than we might otherwise. Nonprofits, international settings, small community hospices, community clinics, family medicine…This is in no way an exhaustive list, and God can indeed call us to the corner office at a prestigious clinic as well. I do think it warrants reflection, and that Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship can serve as an important “discernment space” for providers considering where God is calling them and seeking to live the ministry of reconciliation in every aspect of their work.

Community is the Center of Our Lives

As Anabaptists, community through our churches and our church institutions isn’t just something that happens to us or takes second fiddle to our busy schedules. As Anabaptists and Mennonites, these are to be the heart of all we do. Church shouldn’t be an add-on to our schedule but the absolute center of it.

I recently did a test of this. I created a special color in my weekly calendar for faith and Church activities, and I changed all the activities that had to do with this – from my morning prayer time to church-related meetings – to this color. I found that some of my built-in family time I also changed to this color (it was blue!). What did my week look like? Well. I can tell you that even though I work in and for the church, even though I think about this a lot – Community and Church and Faith were clearly not the center of my calendar.

And, again, I believe Grace is at the heart of this! I found it a helpful exercise, however, and will continue it. I believe for Mennonite healthcare professionals spaces like Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship aren’t necessarily as “optional” as we might think! We are, indeed, called into community and that includes vocational community alongside our local church community. I promise this isn’t self-promotion either. I believe this kind of connection is vital for “refueling” our ability to keep Jesus and Reconciliation at the center of all we do, professionally and personally.

I’m so excited to be a part of it!

Lastly, 

Health and Healthcare touch us all, and we are visually witnessing this now more than ever. The health of one person, one people, one country impacts the rest of us. I was attracted to the Mennonite Church in part because my second Sunday visiting Madison Mennonite was World Communion Sunday. We took communion with warm freshly-made tortillas made by one of the Latina families in the congregation. It was a visceral and delicious reminder of how interconnected we are globally, that the Church is not simply the North American Church. Anabaptism is a truly global phenomenon and those connections are vital for our full understanding of following Jesus.

Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship serves as an extraordinary ‘launching pad’ for Mennonite students and professionals who catch this Global vision and believe that their healthcare vocation is a call to serve all and everywhere. I’ve had the privilege to page through our Membership rosters this week, which are tagged with the date some members participated in SET. WOW! Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship has truly been a catalyst for a huge number of people to catch the global vision in healthcare and connect worldwide. I believe this is a part of keeping Jesus at the center of our faith (not our nation, or our own way of doing things!), keeping Reconciliation at the center of our work, and keeping community (globally!) at the center of who we are as a people.

I am truly grateful and excited to join Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship as Executive Director. I look forward to further engaging the conversation, reflecting on what it means to be a Mennonite healthcare professional, and continuing to empower local and global engagement in the healing and reconciling ministries of Jesus. 

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As we all lean into this transition, with immense gratitude for the leadership of Paul Leichty over so many years, I shared this prayer with the Board earlier this week, and will close by sharing it here.

A Prayer of Transition
 

God of Love,
You are with us in every transition and change.
As we enter into this new era with excitement and even some anxiety,
we recall your deep compassion, presence, and abounding love.
We thank you for the gifts, talents and skills with which you have blessed us.
We thank you for the experiences that have brought us to this moment.
We thank you for the work of others that gives breadth and depth to our own work.
Be with us as we move forward, rejoicing with you and supporting one another.
We ask this in your Holy Name.

– Joseph P. Shadle

 

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