American Civic Life

A Growing Faith & Health Movement That’s Making an Impact

Impact Circle touring Transformation Village, Bithlo, Florida. Courtesy photo

Impact Circle touring Transformation Village, Bithlo, Florida. Courtesy photo

As a Pakistani American Muslim deeply engaged in interfaith work, connecting people, ideas, and identities has always felt like an avenue for greater inclusion and equity.

Health equity fits seamlessly into the goal of religious pluralism, utilizing our nation’s asset of faith communities (and faith identity more broadly) to activate more significant health outcomes.  

Over the past year, I’ve witnessed a partnership emerge between three national organizations advancing the fruitful engagement of faith in health: AdventHealth, Stakeholder Health, and Interfaith America.  

In that spirit, I attended our Faith & Health Impact Circle Convening at AdventHealth Headquarters in Orlando in late February. During this gathering, we sought to dig deep into the fundamental question: How can we unlock the positive potential of our nation’s religious diversity to strengthen human flourishing? Most importantly, how can we tangibly uplift all the meaningful work already happening in this space? 

As we established an Impact Circle, we tapped into our collective networks to identify individuals already working on the intersection of faith and health. Attendees represented a variety of sectors, from public health to government to higher education to faith leaders, including organizations such as APHA, HHS, PTS, WE in the World, Stakeholder Health, The Neighborliness Center, and the National Association of Community Health Centers. 

The Convening  

After our attendees gathered for a Sunday night welcome supper, we began our first day together, touring the close-knit, rural community of Bithlo, Florida, established over a hundred years ago in Orange County. What made Bithlo distinctly unique was the rapid development and flourishing around it, with Bithlo remaining on the outskirts with little urban development.  

Design session at AdventHealth HQ, lead by IA's Suzanne Henderson Watts. Courtesy photo

We heard from Tim McKinney, CEO of United Global Outreach, who has led efforts to increase equitable housing, public health, and education efforts in an area of Bithlo called “Transformation Village.” Tim shared how his Christian faith drew him to this work and how he was called to serve those in his community. We visited the local school, shared lunch with teachers and students, and ended the day with a visit to a local church that had successfully run a food bank during the pandemic and fed thousands.  

As a group, we grappled with a dichotomy of visuals and emotions — for me, I felt hope and frustration. What does taking matters into your own hands mean when the government stops serving you? We asked ourselves questions about the scalability of this work and the role that faith communities play in mobilizing to serve those in need. How do you build the civic muscles of local stakeholders to ensure sustainability? 

After our thought-provoking site visit, we returned to the AdventHealth HQ and were led through design sessions with the Facilitation Team. First, we unpacked our morning experience, visiting Transformation Village and the local Church. We asked ourselves what role faith leaders play in mobilizing action and how to create a system of local stakeholders to step in and maintain local leadership.  

We also zoomed out and asked ourselves, more broadly, where the movement of faith and health is headed. As a collective, we grappled with questions around our collective goal and how we can build a relational architecture to uplift the work happening in the intersections of faith and health. We began mapping out our ‘assets’ across the country. We reaffirmed that we are a network of actors, activists, academics, and practitioners working in all corners of the country to advance the positive engagement of faith in health.  

After fleshing out our problem statement, we spent much of our second day together, talking through actionable tools, frameworks, and best practices we could walk away with. Gary Gunderson shared words of wisdom that the ‘movement is moving us’ – and there are two basic rules that make up a movement: 

  1. Let peers be the heroes of their own audience 
  2. If it is helpful to show up, then let’s show up 

From that, we broke into two breakout groups: one focused on mapping out those ‘opportunities’ worth showing up for and another group thinking through a larger relational architecture to keep us moving. 

Faith & Health Impact Circle Convening at AdventHealth Headquarters in Orlando in late February.

We heard about upcoming gatherings from We the World and Princeton Theological Seminary, amongst others, and how we could leverage support. We prototyped a model that community partners could apply to maximize their strategic approach to health equity and increased health outcomes.  

Next Steps 

After a few days together, we came away with a few takeaways: 

  1. First, we are collaborative, each individual making up a unique lever and player in a growing ecosystem and network that we are just beginning to map out. But the work is happening, and the movement is moving.  
  2. This intersectional work requires us to tap into the next generation of health and spiritual care leaders. 
  3. We learned that bringing people together requires simple rules, such as identifying the next touchpoint, bringing assets (with joy), inviting others in, and leading with a north star in mind. 
  4. We need a solid framework to apply our “Faith & Health” approach to community health initiatives. From the gathering, we developed the “LAMP Lens,” which aims to serve as a guiding star, directing community engagement toward goals that honor and integrate diverse forms of knowledge and wisdom. 

More broadly, the LAMP Lens is a framework that emphasizes the importance of leveraging the unique contributions of four critical dimensions of expertise, Living, Academic, Moral, and Professional (LAMP), to foster health equity and community wholeness. 

The LAMP Lens is designed to empower community health initiatives to pursue health equity and community wholeness in meaningful, sustainable, and deeply respectful ways of the community’s diverse knowledge systems. By emphasizing the equal importance of these four dimensions of expertise, the LAMP Lens encourages a holistic approach to health initiatives. This approach addresses immediate health needs and builds resilient communities that can sustain health and well-being over the long term. 

As we think ahead to our work, we are eager to continue fleshing out this framework and broader network-building movement. So, what role does Interfaith America play in this work? We see ourselves as gatekeepers for ‘trusted nodes’ in this movement—an intergenerational network of leaders in the field, those on campus, and Emerging Leaders. 

 As we continue to grow our Faith & Health Collaborative, we invite you to join us in this work by joining our LinkedIn. 

Sara Rahim is a Program Manager at Interfaith America.