Monday, May 31, 2010

Parish Nurse

(As published recently in Clarion).

There have been moments during my ministry that I wished for deaconesses. On many occasions, I was confronted by pastoral situations that really called out for the greater involvement of women. I am sure that, as a pastor, I am not unique in this. Thankfully, in the several congregation I have served, and am serving, there have always been godly women who, at a moment’s notice, filled a need that only a woman can fill. Pastors, elders and deacons are limited by their maleness.

I never went too far with my thoughts about deaconesses since that road seems to be fraught with many pitfalls.

And yet, there always are those situations that call for a woman. Some members are chronically ill. Some mothers suffer postpartum depression. Yet others struggle with mental and/or physical health issues due to abuse they have suffered. There are the struggles and frustrations of leaving a career to raise a passel of young children. The office-bearers can visit, offer support, encouragement and spiritual guidance also to the struggling sisters. Thankfully, our churches have faithful office-bearers who do what they must and can with love and diligence, but how often does not an office-bearer minister to an old member, an ill sister, a struggling woman, a mother with a newborn baby, a young girl “in trouble,” conclude his visit knowing that he is leaving loose ends behind?

Recently I read some articles about Parish Nurses, and what I read really struck a chord in my heart.

Aaron Epp, in ChristianWeek (March 16, 2010), writes that parish nursing is a concept that began in Europe and spread to the United States and Canada in the 1980s and 1990s. Parish nurses promote health, healing and wholeness through health advocacy, counselling, education and resource referral.

Epp reports that at least 120 nurses from a variety of churches work for parishes across Canada. The nurses have formed an organization, the Calgary-based Canadian Association for Parish Nursing Ministry (CAPNM).

Some nurses are paid by their parishes while others volunteer their time. Some work in individual congregations while others are affiliated with local hospitals and health care clinics.

A parish nurse would visit people of the congregation who are ill, to make sure they are taking their medications, answer questions they may have, perhaps accompany people to doctor visits and act as a liaison. She would address health issues and concerns to congregations or groups of members, young and old, and would be available for consultation, education and advice. A nurse would liase with the local “Sister Help” and “Helping Hands.” These circles are great resources in our congregations, but often they address situations ad hoc and are reactive whereas a nurse would be pro-active. She should work in close consultation with the pastor, elders and deacons.

We have an increasing number of very aged people in our churches. Their own children have the primary responsibility to care for them, but it would be good to have a parish nurse to help out with the care needed.

Today’s healthcare has a more holistic view of health than the past. This is a positive development, for a holistic view enhances health. The wellness or illness of either the mind or the body often reciprocally affects the other. A parish nurse would integrate the physical and the spiritual. For an elderly man or a young mother to have a nurse visit who would help them with medical issues, or with how to cope with life, and who would also pray with them, would be a great blessing. Such a nurse could do more than one working in a hospital in that she could address the whole person, body, mind and soul.

Historically, there has been a close connection between hospitals and churches. The First Council of Nicaea, 325, urged the churches to provide for the poor, sick, widows, and strangers. It ordered the construction of a hospital in every cathedral town. Many Canadian hospitals are still associated with churches. In the past, the United Church of Canada and the Roman Catholic Church operated hospitals, though in the past decades, the tendency has been for these hospitals to be taken under government control. By introducing the practice of parish nursing, we would be completely in line with what Christians have done in the past for their congregations.

This is something that our churches should consider. Naturally one thinks of our larger Canadian Reformed centres as places where the idea is more immediately feasible. If a nurse were employed at a classis level, she could also be available for consultation to our small and more remote congregations.

Several Canadian colleges and universities offer programs in Parish Nursing. Please see for options. Ideally, a parish nurse would be a Registered Nurse with a certificate in Parish Nursing from one of the schools offering the program.


From the Canadian Association for Parish Nursing Ministry webpage:

Parish Nursing is a health ministry of faith communities which emphasizes the wholeness of body, mind and spirit. Rooted in the vision of Christ as Healer, this ministry grows out of the belief that all faith communities are places of health and healing and have a role in promoting wholeness through the integration of faith and health.

The Canadian Association for Parish Nursing Ministry (CAPNM) is committed to the development of parish nursing as a health and ministry resource within Canada.

Parish Nursing is recognized as an essential dimension in the integration of faith and health within diverse faith communities throughout Canada.

A parish nurse is a registered nurse with specialized knowledge, who is called to ministry and affirmed by a faith community to promote health, healing and wholeness.

The role of a parish nurse is to promote the integration of faith and health in a variety of ways that reflect the context of the faith community.
Specific examples include:
          - Health advocacy
          - Health counselling
          - Health education
          - Resource referral