Photo credit ,Healthndevelopment magazine and media archives . REV DR JOHM GRAHAM AND REV DR NTUBA THOMPSON AKWO at ISH TEXAS MEDICAL CENTER USDA .
I am writing to let you know I am retiring as President/CEO of the Institute of Spirituality and Health after twelve years of service. On this occasion, I want to share some of my personal experiences that have created special memories.
My practice is to ask God to open doors that only God can open and to bring people to serve on our staff. As a result, doors opened, and outstanding men and women have come to be part of our work. We have accomplished much and had fun while doing so, attending an Astros game, touring exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts, eating lunch at Olive Garden (more than once!), and even inspecting the fascinating light show at Houston’s underground Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern. We made trips together to Boston, Chicago, and Portland for the Conference on Medicine and Religion. Even at the height of the pandemic, we stayed connected with daily Zoom meetings to meditate and plan our days. This kept us close, and there were several deeply profound moments that we considered holy (yes, even on Zoom).
I have learned much by working with each member of our staff, and over the years my colleagues have inspired me to keep learning. Shannon Sims, for example, came to ISH to complete her doctoral dissertation, teaching medical students mind-body skills. The term “mind-body skills” was new to me, so I began taking classes at Saybrook University to learn more. Two years later, Shannon received her Ph.D. diploma the same day I received my master’s degree in Mind-Body Medicine. I recently completed the required courses for my Ph.D. and will now work on my dissertation.
Being introduced to Mind-Body Medicine opened a surprising door as I searched for a way to help people whose homes and lives were devastated by Hurricane Harvey. We heard Dr. James Gordon of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington DC wanted to come to Houston to train people in mind-body skills to help manage stress. Weeks later, after forming a coalition with several other non-profit organizations to bring Dr. Gordon to Houston, 120 individuals were trained and certified to teach mind-body skills to those in need. As of today, under Cyrus Wirls’ oversight, over 20,000 people in the Greater Houston area have been exposed to these skills, and all involved have found this to be a very meaningful experience.
Another meaningful memory for me is facilitating a Bereavement Support Group for ten years. I am deeply touched by those who have lost a loved one and are experiencing their journey with grief. For eight years, the group met face-to-face at ISH for lunch. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, we moved the meeting online and gained new people from across the nation and even from two foreign nations.
A beloved member of our group, Tom Conry, asked me to give the Eulogy at his funeral. Although he looked to be in perfect health at the time, Tom died a short time later. He also asked Fr. Donald Nesti, a member of our Board, to officiate at his memorial service. Although I had only known Tom in our group meetings, I had no difficulty speaking from my heart about what Tom meant to all of us. When I finished, Fr. Nesti said, “Well, now we know why Tom asked John to deliver his Eulogy.” Interestingly, a dozen of our former face-to-face group, who had not been on Zoom, attended Tom’s memorial service. It was a blessing to be with them again.
And there is so much more! Of course, our major conferences – the annual Nursing Conference, the Psychotherapy and Faith Conference, and the Conference on Medicine and Religion – have created an armload of memories for me and many others. New, developing programs are Cities Changing Diabetes, the Interfaith Spiritual Care Coalition, The Yoga Institute, the Rabbi Samuel E. Karff Center, and Via Colori.
ISH’s remarkable 67-year history continues to this day with an outstanding Board of Trustees, superb staff, and financial support from many foundations and philanthropically minded individuals. I am deeply grateful for their support and words of encouragement. I am confident ISH will continue to be a dynamic ministry connecting men and women to the spiritual core of their being, for health and healing.
I am blessed to have served at this great Institute for the past twelve years. As President Emeritus, I will remain active at the Institute and enjoy the continued friendship of board members, staff, and those who love ISH. I have mentored and worked with our Executive Vice President, Stuart Nelson, for over ten years, and he will serve as Acting President while a search process takes place for my replacement.
I sincerely appreciate everyone I met during my years at ISH. My happiest memories have been seeing you and others come to ISH over the years to take classes and learn about the mind-body-spirit connection. I took classes with many of you and received instruction from Henderson Smith in Tai Chi, where we learned to move together. May we all continue to move together in the years ahead.
John K. Graham, M.D., D.Min., MSc., President Emeritus
Institute for Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center