Reconnecting the Physical and Spiritual Healing Circle!
by Carol Kostiuk
What is Parish Nursing (PN), you ask? Read on and explore the enriching benefits for your worship community and/or the possibility of this ministry for you as a Registered Nurse.
Florence Nightingale was our foremost nursing pioneer in the mid-1800s. Religion was important to Florence and it was while she was walking in a garden that she felt called by God to work with the sick. The church’s mission of healing is timeless and so it is no coincidence that salve (i.e. ointment) and salvation come from the same root word! Our very first hospitals were started by the nuns, in outreach from their congregations to help the sick and suffering in their communities. Thus, the concept of Parish Nursing was born.
Through progress, our civilization became very scientific and specialized. Spirituality was defined by religion and physical healing was defined by the medical realm. Many believed that religious leaders, under the umbrella of organized religion, would take care of the needs of the soul and medical doctors/hospitals would take care of the physical ailments. We can no longer separate hospitals from spirituality or churches from physical illness. Yes, there is “a place for everything and everything in its place,” but overall healing is heightened and life is balanced when the healing journey is achieved on both the spiritual and physiological planes.
Healing is multi-faceted and its importance may be defined primarily by the individual experience. A palliative care patient will not be physically healed of their ailment but they most certainly will be at peace knowing broken relationships have been restored. The loss of a loved one creates a void, but the care and support of a Parish Nurse and the church community, can alleviate some of the stress a little more quickly, possibly avoiding physical symptomology, rather than if one was left to walk his or her journey alone. Parish Nurses are there to assess, recognize, and refer before it is too overwhelming or too late.
Parish Nursing is a calling—a ministry which therefore needs a discernment process even before education begins. Many nurses are already doing this work, on a small scale, in their own congregations. Every nurse I know has been asked some type of medical question by a relative, a neighbour, or an acquaintance. The differentiation comes in the form of education. There are many educational bodies which offer a Parish Nursing Curriculum. Here in Saskatoon, we are lucky enough to have Inter Church Health Ministries (ICHM) that offer classes in Parish Nurse Ministry at the Lutheran Seminary College on the University of Saskatchewan campus. Education takes three years, over and above the Registered Nurse training. PN educational classes consist of theology, counselling, advocacy, referral, history, philosophy, and documentation, just to name a few. The Parish Nurses are then hired by their respective congregations, complete their practicum training, and implement programming with professionalism.
The unique part of Parish Nurse Ministry is its ecumenical/non-denominational component. All of the nurses are trained to facilitate a general program which is then fined tuned to the specific needs of their religious community. The Parish Nurses from all religions meet once a month to support and learn from each other, and once a year to report back to the Saskatchewan Registered Nurse Association (SRNA)—the provincial governing body.
A Parish Nurse does not reinvent the wheel. We do not offer services that already exist in the community. We do help people falling through the cracks. We take time to pray with the patient, as well as for the patient and their families. We are a resource for people when they do not know where to turn. We help connect people to the proper agencies, assess, give advice regarding health care needs, and advocate for those who cannot. Many elderly may be caregivers themselves or may be alone. Their adult children are too often busy at work, busy with their own families, or have relocated out of the province. Parish Nurses fill the void in whatever capacity is required. For example, discussing “medical terminology” has been very helpful for families to make informed choices for whatever the situation. Something as simple as giving a Prayer Shawl—a shawl which is created with the prayerful intent for the recipient’s healing journey—to someone in need is an awesome moment! It is indeed a very humbling and spiritual experience in itself just to be “present” and to be a companion along someone’s life journey. This relationship is what defines this ministry as special and unique!
A Parish Nurse implements wellness and health awareness programs in their congregation. PNs will hand out a health survey to target the congregational needs and follow through with education on a specific health focus. The idea of having a Parish Nurse is still new to many people and in order for the program to be successful, you need the support of the clergy, congregation, and a Health Committee (HC) or Cabinet. A Health Cabinet is a group of people who support the Parish Nurse. For example, in our church we have a soup and bun lunch with each health awareness presentation. The HC will help organize volunteers and food for this event. The HC facilitates programming, assists with fund raisers, answers questions about Parish Nurse Ministry, and helps promote the Parish Nurse program.
Parish Nurses are a consistent presence for the patient, from church to hospital/treatment regime/crisis situation, etc., to home and back to their church family. We are present to all who call on us, through all phases of joy and illness, in birth and at the end of life, to answer questions, give support and most importantly to offer prayer, presence, empathy, and compassion. Our job is validated because we work with and amongst a church community. We are strengthening the healing chain with spirituality in support of physical healing, which is reclaiming what churches have done since the beginning of time!
Carol Kostiuk, of Saskatoon, has been a Registered Nurse for 34 years and a Parish Nurse (PN) for 6 years. She is a Parish Nurse at Augustana Lutheran Church, is in Ministry of Care at St. Michael’s, St. Peter the Apostle, and St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Churches, is a casual at Saskatoon City Hospital, and is CEO of Quintessence Aromatics Inc. She can be contacted for PNM at (306) 291-2586. For more information on Parish Nurse Education contact Elaine (ICHM) at (306) 652-4524 in Saskatoon.