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From the column Health and Wellness

health-wellness-05-14-1Given that parish nursing (faith community nursing) is the fastest growing specialty in nursing today, you likely have heard the term. However, you still might wonder what exactly a parish nurse is and, more importantly, how a parish nurse might enhance the ministry of your local church.

Parish nursing was born in 1985—the inspiration of Dr. Granger Westberg, a hospital chaplain. Dr. Westberg, along with some concerned nurses, believed more was needed for hospitalized patients than mere physical treatment. He emphasized that the proper healing required holistic care (the concept that all aspects of a person’s needs—psychological, physical and social—should be taken into account and seen as a whole).

Together, Dr. Westberg and the nurses put into action their vision of registered nurses serving as a bridge between hospital care and the home and community. Significantly, the concept worked most effectively when nurses supported holistic health in the local church setting. From vision to practice, parish nursing (later called congregational nursing and currently referred to as faith community nursing) is now a recognized specialty by the American Nurses Association. Although the parish nurse addresses all aspects of health and wellness, the primary focus is on the “intentional care of the spirit.”

Nazarene parish nursing began in 1998 under the leadership of Ella Mary Poore. Since that time, these programs have been implemented around the world. The purpose of Nazarene parish nursing is to educate, support, and communicate the importance of holistic wellness with congregants of our churches. Additionally, it provides resources and information to help others begin such ministries in their local settings.

The parish nurse can be a paid (usually part time) or a volunteer member of a ministry team. Practitioners must be an RN with a current license. Given the nature of the specialty, a parish nurse needs additional training. Our organization provides information and opportunities regarding approved courses for parish nursing.

The effective parish nurse demonstrates a strong sense of calling for this ministry. Usually their function involves six distinctive roles:

  1. Integrator of faith and health. This is done through the sharing of scripture and prayer with congregants in the home, hospital or church.
  2. Health educator. We answer questions, organize classes on health issues, encourage congregational wellness and promote health fairs.
  3. Personal health counselor. We answer questions and provide preventative care through education and screening.
  4. Referral agent. We assist parishioners in navigating the health care system. We work closely with our pastors when referring persons to appropriate members of the ministry team.
  5. Trainer of volunteers. We organize intentional interventions of care (providing meals, transportation, respite care for caregivers, etc.), assist with the recruitment of volunteers, and provide ongoing training.
  6. Health advocate.We serve as the voice for congregants when they cannot speak for themselves.

Ministers of churches with parish nurse groups report it is one of the best programs their church has used to enhance its ministry and broaden the outreach of the pastor. One minister said, “Our parish nurse is able to reach the heart and minister to the spirit in ways I cannot. Through the simple act of taking a blood pressure or asking questions about a medication, our nurse finds that door where the congregant will share their deepest needs. It is in those moments, our nurse shares the love of Jesus in powerful and life changing ways.”

Parish nurses consider it the most satisfying and spiritually enriching ministry of all nursing specialties. Many feel that for the first time in their careers they truly are experiencing what it means to be a nurse!

Nazarene Parish Nursing welcomes you to check us out on Facebook and at our new webpage nazareneparishnursing.org. If you have questions or want more information, contact our director Rev. Charlotte Evans at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Ella Mary Poore, RN, MSN Ed., FCN, is the former director/founder and current secretary of Nazarene Parish Nursing. She and her husband are members of the Oro Valley, Ariz., Church of the Nazarene.

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