If Your Heart Is Like My Heart

Mar 3, 2017 | Dr. Scott Morris, Health in Real Life, Theology

In 1987, I had recently moved to Memphis to open what would become Church Health. That same year, Rev. Shane Stanford was diagnosed with HIV. He was born with hemophilia and as a result of his repeated need for transfusions, he contracted a disease that, at the time, was almost certainly a death sentence.

Shane spent endless time in the doctor’s office and wondered openly what his future would be like. Should he get married? Would the church accept him as a pastor? Would he live to see any of his dreams realized?

At the time, none of these questions had clear answers.

Thankfully, Shane did go on to become a Methodist minister, the first one ordained who was known to be HIV-positive. He married his high school sweetheart, Pokie, and they had three daughters.

Somehow, he did not die from AIDS. Instead, Shane became the pastor of one of the largest United Methodist churches in the country, Christ Church in Memphis.

He and I first met right after he moved to Memphis. He moved here from Florida where members of his church had slashed his tires and defecated on his desk because of his disease. He was disheartened, to say the least.

I reached out to him and we became friends. I helped him get connected with healthcare providers here in Memphis, and he began reworking his path for improved health. As we got to know each other better, he became intrigued with the work we were doing at Church Health.

We recognized that while we had unique vantage points on the issue of healthcare and the church – me as a physician, and Shane as a patient – our theological framework to share our experiences was similar. We both knew that John Wesley believed that every Methodist society – and indeed, every church – should be involved in direct healthcare ministry. Wesley believed that the call to discipleship expected every follower of Jesus to be engaged in some form of healing ministry. Shane and I began discussing how we could work together and share what we had learned. It didn’t take long for us to turn our brainstorming into actionable ministries.

We started with programs around behavioral health. Shane wanted to create a “mosaic” that allowed people with broken lives to pick up the pieces and create a mosaic that allows them to go forward. Issues of substance abuse, depression and emotional fragility was where we started. We continue to grow on this plan.

We also began discussing a way we could write a book together that shares our mindset and our experiences. The end result is If Your Heart is Like My Heart, which takes its title from a John Wesley quote that goes on to say, “then give me your hand.”

The book tells Shane’s personal story and explores his discovery of the work of Church Health as he came to more fully understand the depth of what we do. My part is to tell stories of patients we have seen at Church Health over the years. Together, we provide suggestions about how you can advance your own search for God by becoming involved in health ministry.

The book was published by Leafwood Press and is available in book stores. You can buy it online at the Church Health store here.

I love the connection I have made with Shane in the process of writing this book together, but what I love most is that we both believe that a ministry of health and healthcare is a means by which anyone can become better connected to God. It is never just about believing the right tenets, but it is always about doing acts of love that makes God’s presence fully known.

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