Spirituality/Medicine Interface Project

Partnering Together? Relationships Between Faith-based Community Health Centers and Neighborhood Congregations

Authors: Leslie Gee, MD, Douglas R. Smucker, MD, MPH, Marshall H. Chin, MD, MPH, Farr A. Curlin, MD


Objective: The US Bureau of Primary Health Care has promoted collaboration between federally funded community health centers and neighborhood religious congregations, yet little is known about how such organizations currently interact in underserved neighborhoods.

Methods: Semistructured interviews were conducted with leaders from five faith-based, urban community health centers and 23 neighborhood congregations. Transcripts were coded for prevalent concepts and themes regarding collaborations between the two types of organizations.

Results: Collaborations between health centers and congregations are generally limited to modest sharing of resources and personnel and intermittent health promotion programs. Leaders of both types of organizations desire greater collaboration, but such desires appear to be frustrated by inadequate resources and differing priorities, visions, and philosophies.

Conclusions: Increased collaboration between community health centers and neighborhood congregations will require efforts to overcome organizational differences, intercongregational tensions, and resource limitations. For the participants, comprehensive “faith partnerships” remain a desirable but elusive goal.

Key Points

* Faith-based community health centers and neighborhood religious congregations collaborate in limited ways to promote individual and community health, yet comprehensive efforts to coordinate the two types of organizations are lacking.

* Leaders of faith-based community health centers and neighborhood congregations both embrace a holistic vision for health and endorse the importance of their complementary roles in community health promotion.

* Community health centers (CHCs) and religious leaders differ on visions for future partnerships. Whereas CHCs envision community-wide efforts that involve multiple congregations but are organized around the CHC, religious leaders prefer more activities within their particular congregations.

* Comprehensive “faith partnerships” between community health centers and neighborhood congregations are inhibited by the diversity and limited resources of religious congregations and by differences in vision between leaders of health centers and leaders of congregations.

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