Minding the Gap

Faith Community Nurses (FCNs), or Parish Nurses, are meeting growing needs in healthcare.

Recently a Lutheran church in Stoughton, Wisconsin, celebrated the five-year anniversary of their Parish Nurse Ministry. They had identified a gap in care that affected many in their congregation. Sue, a church member who is a nurse, developed the role of Parish Nurse to ease this disparity.

Parish nursing epitomizes the love described in John 15:12 through serving and engaging others in the ministries of health, help and healing based in love. Caring for one’s own health is a matter of human necessity and good stewardship. Caring for the health of others expresses both love for our neighbor and responsibility for a just society. As a personal and social responsibility, health care is a shared endeavor.

Affectionately, Sue defines parish nursing for her church as “minding the gap” by helping people who fall within a gap when needs are unmet—whether it is lack of access to needed aid or the inability to identify basic needs and services.

Sue believes that a sense of community is the heart and soul of parish nursing. Combining her nurse and life experiences, Sue connects the need of the parishioner with needed resources. This may be physical (accompanying clients and advocating for them in the clinical setting), mental (attending to the isolated and transitionally challenged), or spiritual (listening to the Holy Spirit and connecting with pastoral support). There is balance that is brought to the care and attention of all three of these areas. If one area is lacking, eventually the balance is thrown off. It is the restoration of this balance that a parish nurse can assist individuals in obtaining. This process of restoration is a journey.

One memorable experience came when Sue met a local man who had lost an arm in an accident years earlier and needed to administer eye drops three times per day. This posed a challenge for him. Sue began stopping by to dispense the medication, but then engaged others within the community who wanted to help. It was heartwarming to see local people from different backgrounds, faith communities, and work responsibilities come together to lend aid.

As a parish nurse, Sue’s most rewarding effort has come through the healing that occurs during the “Longest Night” service. Held just before Christmas on the Winter Solstice (shortest day of the year), this church service focuses on welcoming anyone in the community who is grieving any type of loss, such as loss of a loved one, a job, or a health condition. Through this ecumenical service, people with painful losses are supported and their pain is acknowledged.

Keeping healthy boundaries both for the parish nurse and those in need can be challenging, yet necessary. “It’s important to know when a request is simply too great to fulfill,” Sue said. “Knowing when to help rather than when to refer someone elsewhere is difficult but still serves a vital need of education and communication. It’s tempting to want to be able to help everyone; however, that is simply not possible. The key is to connect the individual to local resources if they don’t know about them.”

What are the needs in your faith community that concern you as a nurse? Is God nudging you, like Sue, to do something about it?

Read more articles about Faith Community/Parish Nursing and get CE credits from Journal of Christian Nursing.

2 Responses to “Minding the Gap”

  1. Carmen Cronk RN Says:

    Would love to get more info on how this works. I have been aware of this gap but have not been sure how to help. Thank you for what you do. Please email me!

  2. Simeon Kaase Says:

    This is wonderful. It is good to do what God wants you to do. Am encouraged and hope to do same in my church in Nigeria

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