Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina

St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church and Medical Services for Children

by Kay Henderson

"Empower us to live the mission of Christ: to preach, teach, heal, and make disciplines." These words form the core of the Prayer for Spiritual Growth adopted by St. Matthew's Episcopal Church (Spartanburg, SC). When Bishop Waldo talked with our Vestry about the importance of the Diocese's actions to address educational disparities in South Carolina by partnering with schools as mentors and tutors, we realized that we had linked "to teach" and "to heal" in a new way.

St. Matthews' food pantry is conducted as a market, serving 80 families a week. Nutritional advice, fresh produce from the church garden, and a wide array of food choices are offered. When the Edward Via Campus of the Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) started in Spartanburg, St. Matt's rector, Father Rob Brown, identified an opportunity for partnership. A free medical clinic, serving all comers of all ages, is conducted at St. Matts on the first Wednesday of every month as an adjunct to the food pantry. VCOM provides experienced faculty supervising enthusiastic medical students, assisted by medical professional, and non-medical, parishioners. The medical students volunteer for this evening assignment. With smiles for all, they assist with set up, clean up, and demonstrate the time, patience, and skill needed to foster a private-practice type relationship with our food pantry clients and other church neighbors for whom preventive care is a rarely available commodity.

On designated medical clinic evenings during the summer, the focus shifts to back-to-school and sports physicals. St. Matt's turns out in force to prepare for the onslaught of children! The narthex is converted into stations for reception, height, weight, blood pressure, and vision screening, while the Wednesday evening healing service goes on just a few feet away – prayers being punctuated by the joyful noise of children. The education building has exam stations for the girls, while the gym is equipped with exam stations for boys, and the feature most important to the kids - a hot dog bar. Children are examined, school forms are signed, parents are counseled, and referrals for follow-up or specialized medical services are made as needed. Younger siblings watch wide-eyed, and enjoy listening to their own heartbeat through a stethoscope.

After a successful launch in 2015, St. Matthew's community/medical partnership expanded by offering dental care (ranging from preventive care to extractions) for youth ages 4 through 18 who do not have dental insurance or Medicaid. Healthy Smiles of Spartanburg brings their large mobile van to the St. Matt's parking lot, fully equipped with dental stations and welcoming dental staff. On a recent November session, free coats that had been collected from (or purchased by) parishioners were distributed. Back-to-school Wednesday evenings become full-service programs, offering worship, medical and dental care, food and fellowship at the church!

The medical and children's back-to-school clinics were established to make our time, talent, and space available to meet medical needs of underserved members of our community. Less obvious are the ways in which these sessions foster successful educational efforts by the children we serve. Learning is impeded when the child cannot see the board, or focus to read. A toothache, chronic allergy symptoms, or an ear infection distract the child from the important business of learning. How do we measure success? To date, back-to-school and sports physicals have been conducted free of charge for about 150 children, and up to 15 children per session have been able to receive dental exams and treatment as needed. In one sports physical at St. Matt's, the physicians identified a cardiac problem – possibly preventing a tragic on-field incident.

There are outcomes which we hope will have a lasting impact, but which are more difficult to measure. The children who attend, and their families, discover that St. Matthew's is made up of people who are elderly, young, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, from every socio-economic group and occupation. They learn that every person, including the homeless and those without the resources for food or medicine are welcome in our church, and that doctors and dentists are not scary people. Our outreach programs literally open God's house to the community.

The medical students learn true caring for families who could not afford to meet them in a private practice. We hope that we are teaching these young physicians a love for giving of their time and talents that they will incorporate into their future careers.

The parishioners and medical partners often say they get more than they give. They learn to experience the true meaning of becoming the hands of God, proclaiming Christ by actions to match our words.

For more information about establishing free medical clinics in your parish, please contact Father Rob Brown at 864-576-0424 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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