How did parish nursing get started?

Agnesian Spiritual Care Services
Parish nursing

Written by: Sue Schmitz, RN, PN, Parish Health Ministry Coordinator, Agnesian HealthCare

Parish nursing was an idea that came from the understanding of the healing ministry of the church and the need for healthcare that focused on the whole person - to emphasize wellness, disease prevention and health promotion.

In the mid-1980s, the Rev. Grainger Westberg, a Lutheran pastor and chaplain, saw how people were being discharged from the hospital more quickly, and how people lacked the general education and support to keep themselves healthy.  His plan was to place clinics in churches with a nurse, physician and pastor working together. When money (funding) became an issue, the plan changed to nurses working in churches to bring people education and resource information.

Most parish nursing today is done by volunteer nurses working within their own congregations.  The emphasis on wellness, disease prevention and health promotion remains core to the program.

In Fond du Lac, the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes through St. Agnes Hospital began the parish nursing partnership with area faith communities in 1999. Since that time, the program has assisted churches in developing and maintaining both parish nurse programs and health ministries, as well as creating networking links throughout the state and nation.

A health ministry is a group of people in a faith community (e.g. church, mosque, synagogue or temple) who care about the health and well-being of the members of that congregation. A health ministry can be made up of both health professionals and those who are not in healthcare. Sometimes a health ministry group will work with and support a parish nurse ministry.

Health ministries can coordinate blood pressure clinics, health fairs, CPR classes, and wellness-related classes and programs. They can encourage and support healthier potluck meals and coordinate visiting ministries. They can organize health-related written material; advertising community programs for articles and bulletin board displays.

Health ministries are becoming more common in churches both nationally and internationally. An active and creative health ministry allows with church to reaffirm its role in ministering to the whole person, impacting the wellness of the congregation – and ultimately, the community.

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