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Parish Nursing

Stories Of Service & Care

Parish Nursing by Verna Carson
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Parish Nursing presents a vision where nurses can serve as the vital link between secular healthcare and sacred faith-based systems. Nurses are able to provide direct ministry to members of the congregation and also can be the communicators, teachers, motivators, and encouragers of others. The parish nurse could be a key person to link the two systems and provide truly wholistic care. Reading the stories of parish nurses gives us hope that this vision might be possible—indeed must be possible—if our aging society is to flourish in the years ahead.
Templeton Press; May 2002
253 pages; ISBN 9781932031096
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Title: Parish Nursing
Author: Verna Carson; Harold Koenig
Before there were word processors, computers, typewriters, or other implements to write with, there were stories.The collective wisdom of generations has been passed down through storytelling. Stories spark the imagination; they inspire and motivate; they teach and encourage; they correct and challenge. Stories are indeed powerful. And so we have chosen to present the stories of parish nurses—to allow you to hear them describe their journeys in their own voices. Hopefully you will learn from them, be inspired and motivated by them, and allow your imagination free reign to envision parish nursing operating in your church and your health-care system. We believe that parish nursing offers hope to a beleaguered and increasingly inadequate health-care system where the demands for care, especially long-term care, are outstripping the available resources. There is growing discontent with our medical system.At the same time it is touted to be technologically the best in the world, it is criticized for its neglect of the person. While costs continue to rise, care continues to diminish.Witness the increased interest and involvement in alternative and complementary medical practices such as herbology, acupuncture and acupressure, therapeutic touch, crystal therapy, and reflexology just to name a few. Certainly this trend can be partially explained by the dissatisfaction people feel toward traditional medicine. People want to be cared for in a wholistic manner—to be heard, to share in decision making about their lives, to be loved even when they are unlovable, to be accepted as they are in their brokenness, to be encouraged to delineate their own values, goals, and personal views, and to be recognized as more than a diseased gall bladder or a serious case of depression. Patients want health-care providers to see beyond presenting symptoms to the impact of these symptoms on their lives, their work, their capacity to experience joy, their ability to engage in family life, and their experience of spirituality. Patients have always known that they are so much more than the divisible components of body and mind that are the focus of most medical treatment. In truth, real care recognizes that people are indivisible wholes—fully integrated physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual beings. Parish nurses recognize this and respond to it. There is an old adage that says that there is really nothing new under the sun—just old ideas rediscovered and repackaged.Whether this adage is generally true or not, it is certainly true for parish nursing with its focus on “caring for” rather than curing.This “new” specialty represents a return to the Judeo-Christian roots of nursing. Jesus focused on the meaning of suffering and the healing of the whole person; he made little distinction between healing of the body, mind, or spirit.There was emphasis on the thought life of the individual to affect health and the power of prayer to affect healing. Some of the earliest nurses believed that their sole purpose was to honor Christ’s commands to minister to the least fortunate among them. They recognized that caring for others extended beyond ministry to physical needs.Their care included providing intellectual and spiritual nourishment, clothing others with human kindness and concern, remembering individuals who had been forgotten or neglected and no longer cared for and loved, and providing hospitality for people who were homeless or who felt lost in a strange environment. In their ministrations, these nurses saw spiritual meaning in the care they extended. They believed that when they cared for the ill and needy in this fashion, they were serving not only the ill, but God. Over the years, nursing gradually moved away from its spiritual roots. It expanded beyond church-based hospitals and moved into secular institutions of care. Nursing preparation, initially controlled by religious orders, moved into the atmosphere of the statecontrolled university setting.The twentieth century saw upheaval in all areas of nursing. Professional organizations were developed to exercise control over nursing practice; educational programs delineated levels of practice and different roles for nurses depending on preparation; licensure came about as a way of ensuring nursing competence; nursing focused increasingly on the scientific and technological advances that were occurring throughout health care and integrated these advances into nursing education and practice.Wholistic care and especially a recognition of the importance of spirituality, faith, and religion to a person’s health took a back seat to “hightech” interventions. For a time, “high-touch” had certainly moved out of fashion with the nursing profession. However, even with these changes, there always remained a cadre of nurses who kept alive the vision and mission of nursing and held fast to the belief that the essence of nursing is to care about and for the whole person. The theme of service and ministry is evident in the writings of many of the twentieth-century nursing leaders. As the twentieth century came to a close, there was growing dissatisfaction among nurses regarding the movement of the profession away from a focus on the whole person. Nurses expressed concern that increasingly there was little distinction between nursing and medical care. This discontent among nurses led to the development of organizations such as Nurses’ Christian Fellowship and the American Holistic Nurses Association. Both of these organizations focus on the spiritual aspects of health—the former does so from a Christian perspective and publishes the Journal of Christian Nursing, and the latter does so from a perspective encompassing other spiritual traditions and publishes the Journal of Holistic Nursing. In the ????s, the Reverend Granger Westberg “rediscovered” church-based nursing and called it parish nursing. It is in honor of Rev.Westberg that we use the word “wholistic” rather than “holistic.” He believed strongly that the “w” was essential to connote the “whole person,”2 which is the focus of the parish or congregational nurse. This ministry began as one strongly connected and rooted in the Christian faith. However, just as the earliest Christian nursing practice was inclusive rather than exclusive, extending health care to both Christian and non-Christian communities, the concept of parish nursing has spread beyond the Christian church. Even within the Scope and Standards of Parish Nursing Practice this specialty is defined as “.l.l. a unique, specialized practice of professional nursing that focuses on the promotion of health within the context of the values, beliefs, and practices of a faith community, such as a church, synagogue, or mosque and its mission and ministry to its members (families and individuals), and the community it serves.” Recognizing that the focus of parish nursing extends beyond Christian theology, we attempted to identify nurses involved in parish nursing who represent other faith traditions so that we could include their stories. To this end, unfortunately, we were less than successful. We did include the story of Linda Weinberg, a Jewish congregational nurse, who practices in the Philadelphia area. We sought information from leaders within the parish-nurse movement regarding their knowledge and contacts with nurses from non-Christian faith traditions. For instance, Rosemarie Matheus reported that the hospital system with which she is associated in Milwaukee approached an Islamic congregation with a proposal to partner with them in parish nursing. Several years ago Rosemarie spoke to a group of Moslem nurses at an international conference of nursing held in Jordan.There was only mild interest at the time.We “heard” about a parish nurse serving a Buddhist congregation in the Chicago area, another nurse who practices parish nursing in California with the Vedanta Society, a Hindu tradition, and a nurse involved in health ministry for the Unitarian Universalist Church. However, our attempts to connect with these nurses were futile—perhaps, an excellent reason for a sequel! This book tells the stories of parish nurses as they journey into a territory largely uncharted where the road map, the directions, and the rules of the road are being discovered as they move forward. Their words present stories of hearing God’s call, of their responses to this call, of their faith that they are doing the “right thing,” of their joys, sorrows, and challenges, and of their quiet determination and dedication as they offer their time and talents to meet the needs of others.Their stories inspired us and we are grateful for the generous spirit of so many nurses. They responded to our questionnaire; they answered countless e-mails; they shared their resources so that we might share them with you; they opened their hearts to us just as they open their hearts to the congregants they serve.We hope that this book honors parish nurses and serves as an encouragement to other nurses to respond to that gentle “God-nudge” they may be feeling.We hope too that the book inspires church members and leaders as well as health-care providers and administrators to explore the values and benefits of parish nursing within their own faith traditions and to the health-care system at large.