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Faith community nurses minister at grassroots


Across the United States, more than 1,500 United Methodist faith community nurses (also known as parish nurses) address healthcare issues at the grassroots.

These nurses focus on holistic care of the spirit and body, with an emphasis on health promotion and illness prevention within the context of a congregation. While many of these nurses are members of a church staff — some paid and some volunteer, some part time and others full time — all must be registered nurses licensed in their state of residence and follow the American Nurses Association and the Health Ministry Association's "Scope and Standards of Faith Community Nursing Practice."

While they do not provide direct patient care, faith community nurses regularly coordinate and participate in health and wellness outreach programs, health screenings and community health fairs. They may also serve as health advisors to faith communities, visit church members at home or in the hospital, provide referrals to community resources and health services, and manage church support groups.

"The greatest benefit of [faith community] nursing is the ability of the nurse to provide spiritual care and nurturing during times of need," said Dr. Olusimbo Ige, executive director of the Global Health Unit for the General Board of Global Ministries. "Not every community has a hospital or medical facility, but every community has a church that can positively influence and educate congregations and communities regarding holistic health practices."

United Methodist faith community nurses now have the opportunity to earn certification in this specialized ministry. Certification is available to both clergy and laity with faith community nursing backgrounds.

Kathy Smith, R.N., is the parish nurse for First United Methodist Church in Gilford, New Hampshire. In 2014 the church began a health ministry chaired by Smith. "The mission of our team is to serve humanity and spread God's love by improving the physical, mental and spiritual health of those in our church and the community at large," said Smith. "2014 was a year of planning and getting the health ministry program up and running."

And run it has. Blood pressure clinics are held on the last Sunday of each month. In addition to monitoring people's blood pressure, Smith is able to ask other health or life questions. A visitation program for shut-ins and people in nursing homes and hospitals includes serving Communion. A member-to-member service program allows people to request and fulfill service-related needs. Church members may also participate in a volunteer driver program, giving rides to congregants and community members needing transportation to doctor's appointments.

In Spring 2016, Smith coordinated a community health and wellness fair, which allowed church members to reach out to the community. A walking program, weekly prayer hour and health counseling are also part of First Church's health ministry.

"For the first time in my life I know this is where God wants me to be," Smith said. "I know this deep down in my heart and soul. I feel at peace with my place in God's kingdom here on earth."

Cindy Solomon is a communications consultant and freelance writer based in Franklin, Tennessee.

Originally published in Interpreter Magazine, January –February , 2017.

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