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Luncheon celebrates growth of Facts & Faith Fridays: “Science and religion lean on one another to get the job done.”

Jun 10, 2024

Winn presents to new members of FFF Massey director and Lipman Chair in Oncology, Robert A. Winn, M.D., shares insight into the faith-based program to new members of Facts & Faith Fridays on June 6.

More than two dozen faith leaders and representatives from VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center bowed their heads as Rev. Rachel Pierce, M.A., offered a blessing over food and extended it to the group for continued fellowship.

Pierce, the faith liaison and engagement coordinator at Massey, said the lunch meeting held on June 6 was designed to introduce new members of Facts & Faith Fridays to those already established with the program, which began in March 2020.

At that time, Rudene Mercer Haynes, J.D., a Massey Advisory Board member and partner with the Hunton Andrews Kurth law firm, connected Rev. F. Todd Gray of Fifth Street Baptist Church with Robert A. Winn, M.D., director and Lipman Chair in Oncology at Massey. The trio started the weekly call to provide faith leaders with accurate health information about COVID-19, but it has since evolved to include conversations about higher rates of cancer in diverse communities, mental health, housing instability and more.

“We wanted to meet the need to bring the best information to individuals,” Winn said as he opened the June 6 presentation. “Science does not just happen. Science, when done well, is a reflection of our humanity and our caring for each other. We can service all of our folks throughout the Commonwealth. Science and religion lean on one another to get the job done.”

Arnethea Sutton, Ph.D., co-lead of Facts & Faith Fridays and principal investigator of The Cancer Advocacy & Research for Equity in Survivorship (CARES) Lab in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences at VCU, shared that 150 churches have been engaged through Facts & Faith Fridays to date. While most of the conversations are held via Zoom, a hybrid format and more in-person events are being considered.

“We are thinking about how we model that and what resources are needed,” said Sutton. “We can bring them directly to churches instead of on a zoom call.”

Rev. Tyron Williams, D.Div., pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Northumberland County, told luncheon attendees that he has had tremendous success with inviting other faiths to join his rural congregation for in-person gatherings.

“It enriches the conversation, and there is a cross-section of sharing information,” said Williams. “We are challenged in many different ways [where we are located]. Not just technology, but disparities in health. We are looking for new ways to get people involved to help one another.”

Added Jessica Young Brown, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the VCU Psychology Department and resident therapist for Facts & Faith Fridays, “We want to smooth out the barriers to access. What is a resource we can provide? Where can we meet? When we have those modes of influence, we all can get where we need to go.”

Leaders who are new to Facts & Faith Fridays commented that one of the barriers to information is understanding the language used in science if it is not translated to a lay audience.

“When the COVID-19 vaccine was new, I remember how we broke down what went into creating it and explaining what the different terms meant,” Haynes reflected on the efficacy of some of the earliest Facts & Faith Fridays programs. “We need to do that educational leveling because not everyone is coming to these conversations with the same level of understanding.”

Following the luncheon, the group went on a tour of Winn’s lung cancer lab to learn more about the research and discussed the potential for future Facts & Faith Fridays sessions.

Register for upcoming Facts & Faith Fridays programs 

Written by: Amy Lacey

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