For parish nurses in ELCA congregations across the country, Jesus’ lesson to the disciples “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” are words to live by.
Parish ministry is practiced by licensed, registered nurses who integrate nursing and ministry. The concept began with the vision of Granger Westberg, a Lutheran pastor who believed that medicine transcends the physical because true healing involves the body, the soul and the mind.
Parish nurses provide many services to individuals while focusing on the wellness of the person’s body, mind and spirit. Services include health promotion, individual and spiritual care, advocacy, health monitoring and being a “good Samaritan” to those in their community.
Carol Hartman began serving as a parish nurse at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Naples, Fla., after spending 22 years nursing in a cancer ward.
“I was in a busy practice giving chemotherapy and coming to the time when I thought I might want to retire,” says Carol. “I had heard about the parish nursing program through websites and other resources, and I just said someday that’s what I want to do.”
As a parish nurse, Carol is able to provide a wide range of services including health education, referrals to physicians, support groups, newsletters, classes, in-home visits, and home and pastoral care to people from a variety of backgrounds.
“I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping all different ages,” Carol says.
She particularly enjoys working with cancer patients. Sometimes the diagnoses or instructions given to them by a physician may be hard to understand, and Carol’s experience helps her clarify. “I can give them peace of mind,” she says.
Carol says she finds this kind of interaction with parishioners very rewarding, and Karen Setzer, a parish nurse at Faith Lutheran Church in Golden, Colo., agrees.
“It’s a way to combine your nursing and faith together,” says Karen. “It fills gaps.”
The parish nurses at Faith Lutheran have a place for everyone to help out. Besides health ministries, they also have a prayer quilt ministry, they make blankets for the homeless and they put together health kits. In the true spirit of Granger Westberg’s vision, Karen saw each of these ministries as related to health in some way.
They all helped either “physical, emotional or spiritual health.” She says. “It made sense.”
Karen started the parish ministry program at Faith with the hope that she would be able to reach out to those in her congregation. Little did she know she would be reaching out to the entire community.
She invited all the Christian congregations in Golden to come together to form a ministry for the community. The team began with two other congregations, the Seventh Day Adventists and the Catholics, and now includes eight other congregations. This group forms Golden Family of Churches Health Ministries.
“The Golden Family of Churches Health Ministry does many things today: a health fair, Family Promise — a program for the homeless, support groups, blood drives and classes,” says Karen. “Things just blossomed.”
Like Carol, Karen sees parish nursing as a way to help people have a sense of peace about their health.
“At the hospital they do a great job, but they don’t know the people like we do and that some things may not work. We can help with that,” Karen says. “It works so well with filling in the gaps.”