A place for faith in healing

Community: Parish nurses work out of area churches to meet the health needs of parishioners, and promote unity of body, mind and soul.

February 01, 2002|By Donna W. Payne | Donna W. Payne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Church attendance is widespread for the spiritual benefits it offers. But at Howard County's churches with a parish nurse, members' bodies, as well as their souls, can benefit.

"Parish nurses are registered nurses who work in a faith community ... helping them bridge the gaps between faith and health," said Kristine Holmes, a full-time parish nurse at Columbia's First Presbyterian Church.

The parish nurse movement was founded in the 1970s by Granger Westberg, a Lutheran pastor and hospital chaplain from Illinois. Westberg recognized the value of forming alliances between the health community and local congregations.

When individuals or their families are under physical or emotional stress, Holmes said, "it's going to affect whether they come to church [and] whether they are able to pray."

County parish nurses emphasize the integrity of body, mind and soul as a key Christian doctrine. And they speak of their personal satisfaction in being able to talk about spiritual issues in a medical setting, and to pray freely with their patients.

"It really is very fulfilling to be a parish nurse because you can share your spirituality," said Sally Lewis, volunteer nurse at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ellicott City.

Parish nurses serve the families in their churches by acting as advocates, providing referrals and offering regular blood pressure screenings, health talks and flu clinics. The nurses give on-the-spot consultations when buttonholed at church functions. They provide educational materials and organize teaching events on health issues.

After the events of Sept. 11, local parish nurses provided emotional and practical support to congregations. Holmes prepared information sheets about coping, one for adults and one for children, that were widely distributed.

After the anthrax scare in the fall, Howard County Health Department nurses were unable to adequately staff their flu clinics because they were frequently called out, along with police and fire officials, to respond to reports of possible anthrax contamination. Parish nurses stepped in to help with the clinics.

"We were able to provide the Health Department with at least two volunteer nurses for every single [one of the seven] flu shot clinics that remained," Holmes said.

Howard County parish nurses meet for education, networking and fellowship at First Presbyterian Church on the fourth Saturday of each month. Holmes coordinates the countywide program with support from various sources, including a grant from the Horizon Foundation and supplies from Howard County General Hospital.

At last month's meeting, 18 nurses gathered for breakfast. Holmes opened the meeting with prayer, a short devotional and information about resources for continuing training in parish nursing.

Then the nurses listened as Florence Miller, Howard County program director of the Alzheimer's Association, spoke about early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and ways in which to provide support for patients' caregivers.

Donna Hawk of Columbia Baptist Church and Verlie Anne Skillman of St. John United Methodist Church in Columbia said that parish nurses offer time - a commodity that doctors usually cannot spare - to talk with people about their medical concerns.

"I like working with people," said Juanita Callier, parish nurse at Columbia's Mount Pisgah A.M.E. Church. "I feel there's a calling [to be a parish nurse]."

An important service offered by the nurses is the monthly or bimonthly blood pressure clinic. The clinics usually take place between or after Sunday worship services.

Sunday's clinic at First Presbyterian Church began Holmes' "Celebrate Your Life" initiative. Parishioners who have their blood pressure checked during their birth month can choose a small gift from a brightly decorated basket.

Retired physician Cliff Ratliff, using his favorite and carefully calibrated, faded green blood-pressure cuff, joined nurse Becky Torrance to check the blood pressures of about 10 "customers." Charles Denton of Ellicott City appreciated the convenience and lack of stress in having his blood pressure measured at church.

Sandy Johnson of Columbia gets her pressure checked regularly at church and records it on a card the program provides. She recalled how a nurse had helped her to find medical resources for an ailing sister in California and had put her in touch with a parish nurse there. When the family visited the sister, the California nurse gave them significant support and practical aid.

"This is a wonderful ministry," Johnson said.

Information about parish nursing in Howard County: Kristine Holmes, 410-730-3545. Information from the International Parish Nurse Resource Center: http://www.advocatehealth.com/about/ faith/parishn/services.html.

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