The benefits of parish health ministry

Jennifer Hildebrand
Catholic Health Care Today

It is no surprise that health care and health insurance benefits are continually changing. Health leaders are recognizing that improvements in health will come about only as people assume a greater responsibility for their own health and the health of our communities.

Hildebrand

They also recognize that congregations are social institutions with great potential to affect lifestyle changes for health promotion. Hence, more and more health system outreach is being implemented in the community, including faith communities. As we explore the various aspects of congregational health ministries as well as the communities in which they are located, we recognize that we share a common mission and vision.

Faith communities are being challenged to respond to these issues whether we like to or not because of the very nature of our existence. Healing and health are part of the church’s mission: to teach, to preach and to heal. To reclaim this full ministry, we need to be more intentional and committed to that mission. John’s Gospel speaks to us: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10-NIV)  Developing a congregationally based health ministry changes the paradigm of health.

The future in health will be to focus on working together in integrated ways, sharing resources and meeting one another in community. Schools, hospitals, health agencies and churches must come together with a common mission empowered by the community itself. Continuing changes within the current healthcare system have challenged all faith communities to strengthen their roles in health and healing, prompting a significant movement in this country towards health ministry in the local congregation. Considerable research and experience support the idea that one’s faith and outlook are integral to the healing and health of the body.

Churches are still considered one of the more stable institutions in our society. According to the 2017 Gallup Poll, nursing has been the most trusted profession for years with the exception of 2001 when police and firefighters made their way to #1 in response to Sept. 11, 2001. In a changing world, the faith community offers support, forgiveness, education and outreach. Many faith communities have become centers where health fairs, healing services, support groups and other volunteer care-giving activities take place on a daily basis.

Developing a health ministry in a faith community takes persistence, planning and prayer. Once in place, a survey of the congregation can identify some needs and priorities of the members. The priorities identified at Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire in 2012 included a desire for an AED on church premises, emergency preparedness training for staff and volunteers, education and facilitation of advance directives and end-of-life care planning for parishioners. Other topics addressed loneliness and isolation issues of the homebound, special needs ministry, home/hospital visitation and fall prevention classes. Each congregation will look differently depending on the parish nurse, health ministry team and faith community members.

Parish nursing and health ministry is becoming more prevalent in the midst of the healthcare crisis as a solution.  Some even refer to parish nursing as a “movement.” There is great potential for empowering congregants to manage their own chronic conditions with the support of a parish nurse. Ask the pastors whose own health has been changed by the presence and activity of a parish nurse in their congregations. It is a movement that is changing the lives of nurses, pastors, congregations and neighborhoods, one parish nurse at a time.

I urge you all to investigate the benefit of developing a health ministry in your congregation. We are jokingly known as the best kept secret of the church!I currently serve as an unpaid parish nurse at Our Lady of the River along with Rita McRoberts who serves as an unpaid health minister.

Many parishes in the Diocese of Davenport have parish nurses/health ministers in paid and unpaid positions. Some larger parishes have multiple paid positions to better serve their congregation. Training for this specialty practice is available online and/or in a classroom setting year round in partnership with schools of nursing, parish nurse networks and hospitals throughout the United States and internationally.  To learn more about parish nursing or the training go to www.churchhealthcenter.org/fcnhome.

(Jennifer Hildebrand has been a Registered Nurse for over 35 years and serves as Faith Community Nurse for Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire. Please join her and Linda Guebert, parish nurse manager with Unity Point Trinity, for their talk May 18 at 10 a.m. during the St. Thomas Aquinas Guild meeting at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport.)

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