“All nurses are required to provide spiritual care, but for a faith community nurse, it is intentional,” says Susan Carson, a faith community nurse at St. John’s Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Sacramento, Calif.
“We can openly pray with another without any restrictions or time barriers. We focus on whole-person health – body, mind and spirit and how they interconnect.”
Susan explains all that is involved in being a faith community, or parish, nurse. She shares a half-time paid position with another nurse in the congregation and stays busy during that time with many tasks.
“We keep track of the home-bound members and arrange a shared visitation schedule between the pastors, the faith community nurses and the Eucharistic ministers. We manage the prayer list and keep track of the needs of those on that list, which sometimes includes hospital visitation. We advocate for people and families, provide referrals to agencies, organizations or other resources, and provide one-on-one or family health education,” says Susan.
In addition to these responsibilities, they also participate as worship assistants and plan and participate in special events.
Randi Olson, a parish nurse at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Auburn, Calif., performs similar tasks while also doing work that is specific to her congregation and community. “I maintain the first-aid kits throughout the church and keep an emergency supply box for any community emergencies that we may have in Auburn, whereby Bethlehem would be a rescue or hold station for victims of the emergency. I work on health and safety supplies and [problems] that need repair within the church and church grounds,” says Randi.
“Most of all, I give encouragement to all who talk with me about health problems and help families who need to make decisions about moving out of their homes and into long-term care facilities, or also help families in need of support of calling in-home care aides and hospice.”
Caring for the whole person
To be a parish nurse, you must have a license and degree. But special training is also required to prepare for this ministry – whole-person care sets this nursing apart from clinical care.
“The other thing that makes this care different is that I walk with people until they reach resolution, whether it be healing or death. I can remember from clinical care that I would just have a snapshot of the person and never knew how things turned out for them,” says Marilyn Maki, a parish nurse at St. Paul Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Lodi, Calif.
With this type of care, nurses are able to be with the patient for a longer period of time, even after everything has happened. They can see the progress they are making while in church or can be there to support a family if they are in a time of mourning.
They are also able to focus on entire families and not just one patient at a time. Susan explains a time when she worked with a husband, wife and daughter. The husband, who was the primary caregiver for his family, had a wife who had early onset Alzheimer’s. Susan was able to provide him with resources and referrals. Later, he had hip surgery. “We speak with them directly to make sure we can pray with them. We had a couple hospital visits and follow-ups. It was an ongoing relationship for a variety of reasons,” says Susan. Not only were they able to provide help for the husband and wife, they also assisted the daughter, who asked for assistance with transportation so that her parents could continue to attend worship.
It takes faith
A parish nurse is more than someone who just gives medical advice or hosts a blood drive. They prayerfully care for their patients and even those who aren’t receiving medical help. They are there for those in their congregation during the most challenging moments in their lives and continue to do so after the hurt, uncertainty or loss.
“I can’t imagine facing all of the pain and loss I witness as a nurse without faith. Knowing that we are never alone and that God is in control helps me to keep a healthy perspective,” says Deb Knudtzon, a member of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Santa Rosa, Calif.
Although each parish nurse is different, they all have one thing in common – without their faith, they would not be able to do what they do.