February 27, 2008

It's All About the People

2008 1506 page6 capalk show host Glenn Beck lashed out at U.S. emergency room health care during an interview on Good Morning America January 8. Extreme negative reactions to strong pain medications following Beck’s recent outpatient surgery forced his wife, Tania, to rush her husband back to the hospital’s emergency room, where it appears the health-care workers were less than sympathetic.
“When we got to the ER there was such a lack of compassion,” Beck told GMA host Robin Roberts. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Beck described obvious expressions of frustration on the part of the nursing staff, and even the drumming of fingers together with a deep exasperated sigh by a triage nurse who, Beck says, never once made eye contact with him. Finally, he says, another nurse who noticed Tania struggling to almost carry her husband to his bed, rushed over and asked if they needed help. This act of kindness brought Beck to tears.
“I started to cry not because I needed help, but because somebody had compassion for my wife,” he said.
2008 1506 page6Beck summed up the crux of his experience by noting, “It’s the people. This hospital said to me, ‘You know, Glenn, we’ve had problems with our facilities,’ and I said, ‘Don’t talk to me about the facilities; talk to me about the people. People connecting with people. Let’s emphasize the word “care” in health care.’”
I can resonate with Beck’s frustrations. Along with excellent health care, competent physicians, and caring nurses, my family and I have occasionally encountered disheartening experiences similar to Beck’s during emergency room visits and hospital stays. But Beck’s closing statement in particular remained with me and led my thoughts from the hospital room to the church foyer: It’s the people. Don’t talk to me about the facilities; talk to me about the people. People connecting with people.
My experiences visiting numerous Adventist churches have been varied. In some I have felt almost invisible to the local members. In others I’ve been welcomed like a long-lost friend.
One of the friendliest churches I have ever visited is that which my mother attends in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. The 80-member congregation there never fails to make me feel welcome, and they appear to do the same for anyone new who walks through their church doors.
The head adult Sabbath school superintendent of my home church in Maryland is also aware of the importance of connecting with and valuing people—especially church visitors. “We need to be known as a friendly church,” she has told the rest of us superintendents. “It’s vital that we make every effort to make people feel welcome. Greet them in the foyer. Shake their hands. Invite them to your Sabbath school class. Make sure they know we’re glad they’re here.” She realizes—as does Beck—that it’s all about the people.
Although ours is a relatively large church of some 1,500 members, I believe it’s a friendly church. Sometimes, however—as in most churches—we do fail to step up to the challenge of personally connecting with others. I’ve heard the person at the podium ask visitors to raise their hands so those sitting around them can greet and welcome them, and yet noticed no one make the effort to say hello. On these occasions I sometimes get up from my seat and walk to the far side of the church to welcome those overlooked visitors. I realize, however, that if I hadn’t been more fully sensitized to this issue in Sabbath school council meetings, I too may often just sit in the pew, oblivious to the feelings of discomfort a visitor may be enduring.
Beck’s experience brings home the importance of caring for and connecting with others. It truly doesn’t matter the size of the church; how architecturally elegant, aesthetically pleasing, or lavishly decorated it might be; or even the adequacy of its facilities when it comes to our mission of revealing the character of Jesus to the world. All take second place to personally letting people know we truly care about them.
Is the reason for our existence as a church—both locally and worldwide—the facilities, the programs, the church budgets?
No. It’s the people . . . people connecting with people. So, let’s emphasize the word “care” in spiritual health care, and reveal to others the true love of God.

Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor for the Adventist Review.