A Shared Mission of Healing

Celebrating 100 Years of Healing

Oct 17, 2022 | FaithHealth Model

FaithHealth: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Headed

By Brian K. Davis

The founders of North Carolina Baptist Hospital, the clinical core of Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, had a broad vision for what they hoped to accomplish. Rooted deeply in the conviction that within their understanding of Gospel is care and compassion for the poor and needy, the churches of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina marshalled their resources and, after years of planning and preparation, opened the doors of what was called Baptist Hospital on May 28, 1923.

It was never the intention for Baptist Hospital to be limited to a single location. On the contrary, the founders envisioned multiple hospitals across the state. In addition, education was clearly included in the stated purpose for Baptist Hospital when first conceived. The initial charter for the hospital included the expectation for a “training school for nurses.” Churches wanted nurses to be trained and deployed across the state to serve communities expressing the same compassion patients within the hospital would receive.

The original purpose of Baptist Hospital still guides the mission and ministries of the FaithHealth Division of Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist. The division provides a modern expression to these values and engages in these efforts through 5 departments: FaithHealth Chaplaincy and Education, CareNet, Center for Congregational Health, FaithHealth Community Engagement, and Faith Community Nursing.

FaithHealth Chaplaincy and Education

Each of the 5 key departments branched from that small seedling for spiritual care established by the first superintendent of Baptist Hospital, Rev. G.T. Lumpkin. It is reported that Lumpkin, a Baptist minister, not only served as the administrator for the hospital, but also provided spiritual care to patients, their families and hospital staff – often visiting with them and praying with them. Lumpkin also provided theological education to nursing students.

He served as superintendent until his death in 1934, and was succeeded by Smith Hagaman. Hagaman recognized the legacy of Lumpkin’s spiritual care, and the reality that patients, staff and students both expected and needed this care. However, as a layperson, he did not feel capable in his attempts to provide the expected spiritual care and education. So, in 1940, he approached the Board of Trustees with a recommendation to employ a hospital minister, and Rev. C.E. Parker was hired for this role. According to Edna Heinzerling, longtime director of nursing at the hospital, Parker, “devoted his time to ministering to patients and in counseling where needed.” His work was the next step in the development of spiritual care at the hospital and the first branch of growth on the young seedling.

As Baptist Hospital grew larger, the demands for spiritual care increased as well. The trustees approved a new position, one that would further demonstrate commitment to the spiritual care of patients, families and staff through a full-time employee dedicated to these tasks and those of denominational relations. In 1945, the trustees hired Dr. W.K. McGee as director of the newly developed Department of Religion and Denominational Affairs.

However, the demands of both roles, spiritual care and denominational relations, were more than a single person could manage, so the roles were divided with McGee retaining the denominational relations role and his associate, Dr. Richard Young, taking the lead in spiritual care as the employee dedicated solely to chaplaincy in 1946.

Young then led in the development of the School of Pastoral Care in 1947, bringing the concept of the healing team of chaplains and clinicians to bear on the health and well-being of patients. This led him to expand into chaplaincy education, thus establishing one of the oldest training programs for clinical chaplains in the US at North Carolina Baptist Hospital.


An interesting development took place through the ministry of clinical chaplains in the hospital. A chaplain would visit a patient and the rapport built would often be strong, deeply respectful and as essential to the healing and well-being of the patient as all other aspects of clinical care provided. It was not unusual for patients to return to the hospital seeking to reconnect with the chaplain who had visited them in their time of need. A familiar refrain was, “I want to speak with that chaplain again; they helped me so much.”

Of course, the heart of a good chaplain is that of service and compassionate care, so it was a natural next step to offer counseling for a patient who returned asking for more spiritual care. As this service grew, it was obvious that more hands were needed to provide this care.

Richard Young initially developed plans to train local clergy to provide counseling and care through their local churches, as well as training chaplains to serve within the hospital. This approach helped, but the need for spiritual care in the hospital and the community both continued to grow.

In 1955, in memory of Annie Pearl Shore Davis, the wife of E.L. Davis, Sr, a long-time trustee of Baptist Hospital who served as the first chairperson of the Board – a role he continued for 20 years – Davis Memorial Chapel was built on the campus of the hospital. The chapel provides not only a sanctuary for the comfort of patients and their families, but for the use of hospital chaplains in their training and ministry.

By 1972, the demands for this outpatient pastoral counseling were so great, a new model for providing this care was needed. So, in partnership with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Baptist Hospital established its outpatient pastoral counseling ministry known as CareNet. With pastoral care taking place within the walls of the hospital and pastoral counseling taking place beyond the walls, the hospital’s original vision and purpose were seeing new and exciting growth.

Center for Congregational Health

At the same time, an original ministry and purpose of the hospital was ending. The North Carolina Baptist Hospital School of Nursing closed its doors in 1974. Changes in nursing education, delineating nursing education as 2-year associate degrees or 4-year bachelor degrees, placed 3-year programs – like those at the North Carolina Baptist Hospital School of Nursing – in a less-desirable place for students. So, the trustees approved closing the program and transferring its educational assets to Forsyth Community College.

When they set up the hospital, NC Baptists wanted nurses to be trained and deployed into communities to serve those in need, much like clergy in local congregations. In fact, when presenting the call for constructing the hospital to NC Baptists, the planning committee stated:

“As we establish as and maintain a hospital system, it must not lead churches and Christians to relegate all responsibility and personal interest to the hospital. Church and individual interest will be aroused in cases, though they be subjects for the hospital, and the community nurse will be a part of the church community and hers will be a distinctly Christian service as that of the pastor. So a proper conception of this mission of the hospital will put the local church in close touch with the community, in ministering to the afflicted and also extend its interests to the institution as well.”

The connection of the hospital with congregations was essential not only to build and open Baptist Hospital, but for its very survival in the hospital’s first decade. An emphasis on providing care, regardless of the ability to pay, resulted in hospital leaders imploring the churches of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina to financially support the operation of the hospital and included appeals for special offerings from the congregations to provide care for the poor and needy. An early expression of this was the creation of the annual Mother’s Day offering, through which congregations contribute to help patients who could not pay their medical bills. This offering is still received by congregations and continues to be used to help patients who fall between the cracks of other financial assistance programs.

Another connection between Baptist Hospital and congregations developed through efforts to strengthen congregational leaders – both clergy and laity – through the Center for Congregational Health (CCH). In 1992, in yet another partnership with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, CCH was established to help congregations in key areas of health. Their work is rooted in the conviction that healthy congregations play a vital role in the health of the community. Just as CareNet counseling addresses the spiritual and psychological health of individuals, CCH works to address the health and well-being of congregations in communities across the state. However, due to its unique work, it was not long before CCH became regionally, and then nationally, recognized for its work with congregations, denominations, networks and other judicatories.

FaithHealth Community Engagement

The seedling of spiritual care grew and branches for chaplaincy, chaplaincy education, pastoral education, pastoral counseling and then congregational development emerged, providing cooling shade beneath its leafy branches and bearing fruit which testified to the timeless values and enduring mission the founders of Baptist Hospital had envisioned.

In 2013, Dr. Gary Gunderson came to Baptist Hospital and brought with him vast experience in both hospital-focused and community-focused spiritual care. Gunderson’s commitment to addressing the biological-psychological-social-spiritual needs of individual patients and entire communities led him to coin the phrase FaithHealth. No separation, hyphenation or division between faith and health. As a result, Gunderson reframed the Department of Pastoral Care and its many ministries to bring an expanded commitment to community and population health. The seedling of spiritual care, having already grown and branched, would grow and expand even further.

Notably, among Gunderson’s vision for the Department of Pastoral Care, now known as the FaithHealth Division, has been the expansion of community engagement strategies, ministries and programs. Central to the community engagement strategy has been forming partnerships with clergy and congregations that include support of FaithHealth connectors. These connectors, as they are commonly called, are trusted liaisons in communities and do the all-important work of connecting hospital patients with much-needed support following hospitalization. But most importantly, connectors work with clergy and congregations to engage in the health of individuals to prevent hospitalizations in the first place. With a commitment to helping patients find, “The right door, at the right time, ready to be treated and not alone,” connectors have expanded the impact of the hospital across communities, across the Baptist Hospital service area and beyond. Learn more about connectors on page 11 of this magazine.

The FaithHealth ground game also includes a unique chaplaincy ministry to first responders. Through partnerships with local law enforcement agencies, first responder chaplains engage in the critically important work of spiritual care for first responders.

The strategic combination of Wake Forest Baptist Health and Atrium Health has revived one of the initial purposes and mission for Baptist Hospital. The combination involved the integration of Faith Community Health Ministry, formerly housed in Atrium Health in Charlotte, with the FaithHealth Division in Winston-Salem. This means supporters of health and faith community nurses are now part of the FaithHealth Division’s community engagement strategy. This addition brings back to the FaithHealth Division the role of the community nurse and in so doing reconnects the division with one of the founding purposes for the hospital established a century ago. The roots of spiritual care established 100 years ago continue to bear fruit as the Tree of Life, depicted in the logo of Atrium Health, continues to grow and mature. The mission of Atrium Health is “To improve health, elevate hope and advance healing – for all,” and is a modern expression of the mission of Baptist congregations a century ago.

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FaithHealth Magazine Fall 2022