Sandy stepped into a room outside St. John’s sanctuary, where parish nurses offer blood pressure screenings after Sunday worship. “Sandy,” I said, removing the cuff, “your blood pressure is 144/90. Looking at your records, it’s elevated. Are you taking your blood pressure pills?”
Sheepishly she replied, “I stopped taking my pills because I was feeling better. But I’ll start taking the little pill in the morning and evening.” Sandy is a widow and an active parishioner. She also suffers from memory problems and has a history of stroke. I emphasized the importance of taking her pills as prescribed by her doctor. This is a common conversation as a parish nurse offers education, support, and encouragement to a member of the flock.
A parish nurse (PN) is a registered nurse with specialized education to support the spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of church members. The PN may provide health resources and education but does not provide medications, administer shots, start IVs, or perform any invasive procedures. Clergy corroborate the PN. As early as 1881, Lutheran General Hospital in Chicago had deaconess nurses on its staff, but it would be another century before parish nurses were given a name. Presently, hundreds of PN’s serve throughout the United States in a variety of denominations. (Mary Elizabeth O’Brien, Parish Nursing: Healthcare Ministry within the Church, Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2003).
Consider the benefits that a parish nurse ministry could bring to your congregation:
- Blood pressure screening, health fairs, blood drives
- Visiting shut-ins
- Health/wellness education, community resources, health advocate
- Health classes, e.g. CPR, yoga, etc.
- Bereavement support groups (St. John uses GriefShare)
- First aid kits, AED (automated external defibrillator) checks
- Encouragement and prayer support
Parish nursing can also be an outreach ministry. Non-members can be invited to classes and programs facilitated by the PN. Attending to a person’s physical health can bring benefits for their spiritual health.
If you are a Christian nurse, prayerfully consider using your medical wisdom to minister at church. If you are already a PN, continue to depend on the Holy Spirit to guide and bless your service. If you have benefited from such a ministry, please express your gratitude and pray for your parish nurse.
A. Heidi Gilbert-Then is one of five parish nurses at St. John, Lannon, Wis. Since 2015, they have been providing education, implementing programs, and showing compassion to members of the congregation and the community, all with the full support of their pastors.
To learn more about starting a parish nurse program, visit csm.welsrc.net/parish-nurses.
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