Prayers and postcards seek justice

A United Methodist Deacon offers counsel on how to impact today’s health care system.

REBECCA COLE
General Board of Church & Society

What can I do to have a health care conversation in my local church? Will it make an impact if I write to or call my Senator?

United Methodist organizers and advocates all over the country have been asking these same questions. Their answers lead them in taking steps in their local communities to impact the health care system today.

The Rev. Merrilee Wineinger is a deacon in the Tennessee Annual Conference, and has been a health care advocate for many years.

I recently chatted with her about her ministry. Here’s our conversation.

Rebecca: What inspired you to be involved in health care justice ministry?

Merrilee: My first husband and I decided that I would leave my job and stay at home after I had my first baby. Fred was — and still is — a professional musician. We soon found out that insurance companies didn’t want to sell a policy to a self-employed musician, especially a policy that had maternity benefits. We eventually found a plan that we could afford, but only because it came with a high premium and deductible, and lacked prescription coverage.

My story is not unique. Families and individuals who are underinsured and uninsured across the U.S. are praying without ceasing that no one gets sick or in an accident. Too many people pace the halls at night worried about what the next day might bring.

That’s not what God desires.

Every person should have access to high-quality, affordable health care. And so, I feel called by God to work for a just health care system so all people can live a full, healthy, and abundant life.

Rebecca: From your work in Tennessee, what are specific examples of how you and other leaders are organizing to transform the health care system?

Marrilee: Wow. We’ve done a lot.

We’ve hosted house meetings and community forums, circulated petitions, attended events, and talked to the person behind us in the grocery line. We’ve made calls, filled out postcards, wrote letters, and visited our legislators.

Some of the most energizing events have been gathering at prayer vigils, organizing rallies, and watching the state capitol’s atrium over-flow with people reading scriptures, preaching the Word, singing, and chanting.

During Tennessee’s Medicaid expansion campaigns, we organized an Ash Wednesday service at the capitol and served communion during a sit-in. Students from Fisk University organized a walk-in-their-shoes campaign, where we placed over 30 pairs of shoes in the door way of the office of Tennessee’s speaker of the house.

The list goes on.

In the end, everything — from the conversation with the person behind you in line at the grocery store to vigils in the state capitol — makes a difference.

Rebecca: In the midst of many challenges facing health care and our communities, what gives you hope to continue working for justice?

Merrilee: God has blasted me out of my comfort zone over the last decade. I’ve watched, listened, and learned from seasoned organizers. I’ve asked lots of questions and my mentors took the time to explain policies, procedures and the problems people were facing. These mentoring relationships bring me hope.

I am filled with hope when I am organizing with new advocates — when I see the energy and fulfillment they get when they have gained knowledge and feel empowered to impact change.

With every event or action, I am grateful for the gifts and skills that God has provided us. The job is often exhausting and ripe with disappointment. When we become weary, God will fill us up and send us back out into the world. Hope is our fuel and hope never dies.

Editor’s note:

The U.S. Senate is on a track to have revisions and a vote on the American Health Care Act before June 30. Medicaid is on the chopping block. Those interested in connecting with United Methodist teams in their area who are taking actions to transform health care, should contact Rebecca Cole at rcole@umcjustice.org.

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