Cancer Care Ministries

Building a foundation of support and hope

By Laurie Wertich

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Spiritual congregations can serve many roles for their members, providing invaluable support in myriad spiritual, social and practical ways. As the leader of a faith community, a pastor is often asked to minister to members on not only questions of faith, but on concerns that range from divorce to parenting to financial matters. And while pastors are trained to offer guidance and support across this broad range of issues, there is one topic that many report is a challenge: cancer.

A cancer diagnosis can have a major impact on a person’s life—not only physically, but in the many issues that can arise related to faith, family, career and finances. For pastors, understanding these issues and being able to offer practical support to their community is essential. Now—with the Cancer Care Leadership Training—Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is lending pastors a hand, and serving as an expert resource to congregations seeking to better serve their members and communities.

The leadership training—designed to help church leaders implement cancer care ministries in their churches—is simply the stone dropped in the water. The ripple effect is a wide network of spiritual and practical support for people with cancer.

Our Journey of Hope

The Cancer Care Leadership Training program is a component of Our Journey of Hope® (OJOH), which is a cancer care ministry outreach program established by CTCA in 2004 as a way to provide additional support for cancer patients and families. This educational outreach program provides training, resources, structure and ongoing support to pastors and ministry leaders who are passionate about bringing hope to those dealing with cancer.

As CTCA has continued to identify patient needs, OJOH has evolved to meet those challenges. Sometimes meeting patient needs means supporting those who support patients—including pastors and church communities.

Supporting Pastors

“Research published several years ago showed that 75 percent of patients stated that their spiritual needs were not being met in the hospitals in which they were being treated. What’s more, an overwhelming percentage of patients also stated that their spiritual needs were not being met in their home church,” explains Reverend Michael Langham, Director of Pastoral Care at CTCA in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

If patients were experiencing a spiritual letdown at church and in the hospital, then CTCA® and OJOH were curious how to fill that spiritual void. “We realized that although we were working with churches, there was still a disparity there,” Reverend Langham says.

So, CTCA embarked on some research of its own—with patients and pastors. In focus groups, pastors reported that they most often counseled parishioners on three main issues: family, finances, and health—namely cancer.

“Pastors stated that the one area in which they felt the least equipped to minister to their parishioners was cancer,” Reverend Langham says.

That’s where OJOH and the Cancer Care Leadership Training comes in. “We realized that we needed to target the pastors and church leaders and provide them with the information they needed to be more effective in their ministry to cancer patients and families in local churches and communities,” Reverend Langham says.

Cancer Care Leadership Training

In 2013, OJOH began to offer regular cancer care leadership seminars in five cities across the United States. The purpose of these seminars is to equip pastors and church leaders with the skills and tools to effectively start a cancer care ministry within their church communities.

The training is open to all churches and all faiths and is offered free of charge. Participants need only arrange for their own transportation to the training venue. Once there, CTCA provides lodging, food, and all of the training materials.

The training is a two-day immersion program that is essentially a crash course in cancer. It is open to two people from any church—one church staff member and one other person (often the facilitator of the cancer care ministry for the church).

The two days are jam packed with education, interaction and spiritual support. On the first day, participants learn about cancer and its treatment. They hear from patients, survivors, caregivers and doctors. They tour the hospital and they experience a day in the life of a cancer patient. “We want them to understand what cancer patients are faced with every day, what it is like to sit through an infusion, or to meet with the care team,” explains Mandie Rowden, Spiritual Outreach Coordinator at CTCA in Tulsa.

Part of this means learning about Patient Empowered Care® and understanding that there are multiple people involved in day-to-day care. “We demonstrate for them how every single practitioner converges on the patient in one room. We go to them, so they don’t have to bounce all over the hospital visiting each one individually,” explains Reverend Jeff Paparone, Chaplain at CTCA in Goodyear, Arizona. “Basically, we’re showing them a model that can work for their church, too. You go to the people rather than waiting for them to come to you.”

The first day of the training ends with a spiritual worship service. “We bring everything back to why we are here,” explains Rowden. “We focus on the biblical calling of a cancer care ministry.”

The second day of the training focuses on the nuts and bolts of implementing a cancer care ministry. The facilitators introduce a curriculum that pastors and church leaders can take home and implement. “Our ultimate goal is to put something tangible into pastors’ hands,” Rowden explains. “We provide a complete curriculum that they take back to their church. They then choose a core group of individuals to become the cancer care ministry team, and this group goes through the eight-week curriculum.”

The curriculum includes leadership material, participant material, information about logistics and how to start a small group and more. “We place all of the knowledge in their hands. At the end of eight weeks, we feel confident that group members will feel competent, capable, and prepared to meet the needs of their church and community,” Reverend Paparone says.

Of course, the comprehensive two-day training is only the beginning. CTCA also provides an extensive follow-up program. “We provide access to a wide array of supplemental materials online as well as an online forum where participants can communicate with each other,” Rowden explains. “Whatever material people need, we’ll provide—because we want people to have successful cancer care ministries.”

Putting it Into Practice

“I really think this is going to be a game changer,” Reverend Paparone says. “In the past the statistics have shown that pastors weren’t really getting the job done—not because of a lack of trying, but because of a lack of training and education. This changes all of that.”

“I used to be a pastor at a church and it was amazing to see people fade into the background when someone was diagnosed with cancer simply because they didn’t know what to say or do,” Reverend Paparone recalls. “When it comes to cancer, you just have to be present. The ministry of presence is the most important thing we can do. God works through a handshake or a hug. There is nothing more powerful than the power of just being there.”

The Cancer Care Leadership Training equips pastors and other church members with the tools to implement that ministry of presence. Reverend Carl Harris, the pastor at First Baptist Church of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania attended the Cancer Care Leadership Training at CTCA in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Now, he’s excited about putting the program into practice. He has already invited several church members to form a group. “I just asked them to come and pray about how God might want to use them,” he explains—and immediately, the group had a strong chemistry.

While his church community has been successful at providing support to its members, Reverend Harris notes that the leadership training helps take it to a new level. “This really formalizes it and brings a structure to it and makes it more intentional,” he explains. “This program gives us the fundamental tools. It is a good catalyst for something that really should be happening.”

He plans to take the model presented by CTCA and “put some flesh to it with phone calls, prayers, visits, meals and the whole nine yards.”

“I really appreciate CTCA for investing in this,” Reverend Harris says. “I appreciate their vision of encouraging the church to be what it is supposed to be anyway.”

The Ripple Effect

Cancer Care Leadership Trainings are being offered at CTCA hospitals across the country and registration fills up months in advance—which serves as a testament to the value of the program.

“The benefits of this are immeasurable,” Reverend Paparone insists. “ It can grow a community because people are reaching outside of their comfort zone. A community grows in faith when its community members minister to each other.”

There is an African proverb that says: “When you pray, move your feet.” The Cancer Care Leadership Training helps put those feet in motion—building a foundation of spiritual and practical support.

Starting a Cancer Care Ministry

Are you interested in starting a cancer care ministry in your home church? Visit Our Journey of Hope to learn more about the Cancer Care Leadership Training.