Parish nurses link health care with faith
Parish nurses throughout Talladega County are providing a spiritual link to health issues.

According to the American Nurses Association, parish nursing, or faith community nursing is recognized as “the specialized practice of professional nursing that focuses on the intentional care of the spirit as part of the process of promoting holistic health and preventing or minimizing illness in a faith community.”

Parish nursing developed as the result of Lutheran pastor and hospital chaplain Rev. Granger Westberg who believed that health involves more than care for illness. It continues the belief of Florence Nightingale who believed that health care goes beyond a patient’s physical symptoms.

According to the Health Ministries Association and the ANA, “When health is defined as wholeness, salvation, shalom, it requires the integration of the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of the client system and harmony with self, others, the environment and God.

“Healing focuses on the process of integrating the body, mind and spirit to achieve wholeness, health and a sense of well-being, even when the curing of disease may not occur.”

The parish nurse concept was introduced to Alabama nurses at a conference sponsored by the Baptist Women’s Missionary Union and Samford University 12 years ago. Seventy-five nurses from Alabama gathered at Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center and were introduced to the parish nurse concept and to received training in the field.

The initiative also included promoting improvement of congregational health.

To become a parish nurse, the individual must be a registered nurse, member of a local congregation and submit a letter of recommendation from their pastor.

Parish nurses provide education, counseling, referrals and serve as advocates and facilitators for their local congregations.

Because they are nurses it is not uncommon for members of congregations to seek them for information, referrals or simply to talk about their health problems.

SAFE parish nurse Sandra Sherbert (Talladega Creek Baptist Church) said that many just want to talk.

“They don’t expect you to do something about it, but to just hear them and understand,” she said.

Nurses attending churches can form a Congregational Health Team in the local congregation.

According to materials regarding congregational health ministries, “There is an abundance of scripture related to health, healing and wholeness.”

Congregational Health Ministries focuses on “reclaiming the church’s role in promoting health, healing and wholeness from the whole person perspective – body, mind and spirit.”

A local congregational health team must be headed by a registered nurse and can be composed of RNs, licensed practical nurses, aids and interested laymen. Services provided can go beyond health promotion and prevention to include providing transportation or manning a food bank.

Nurse Alberta Cook said, “God created this life and He needs someone to take care of it.”

Cook is a member of the Pine Grove Baptist Church in Sylacauga. She said she and the church have conducted health fairs since 1989.

“I was in health ministry before I became a parish nurse,” Cook said.

The health fairs are conducted at J. Craig Community Center in Sylacauga and provide screenings for blood pressure and diabetes. Many of the elderly get an opportunity for one-on-one discussions with doctors about their health issues, Cook said.

Retired nurse Martha Sherbert (Talladega Creek Baptist Church) said that she uses Bible School as an opportunity to teach health practices. Subjects that have been taught include dental care and personal hygiene, she said.

Nurse Bobbie Reynolds said Enon Missionary Baptist Church has formed a Nursing Guild. The guild meets on the fourth Saturday of each month and she said she uses the opportunity to address health issues.

Nurse Laney Ferrell (Trinity Episcopal Church in Alpine) said teaching CPR is her calling. After witnessing the death of a child, Ferrell said she realized that she needed to teach others how to administer CPR.

Sherbert said that nursing is “all about life” and seeing someone respond to CPR or other life saving measures is “a spiritual experience.”

“Life is a gift,” Sherbert said, “and to see someone about to lose life, that gift – you have to do something.”

Dying is also a part of life that the parish nurse tries to prepare patients’ family members for by explaining the process often encountered.

“Sometimes people get better to die,” Sherbert said.

The patient may spend a day feeling better and enjoy their family only to die the next day. The family needs to see that good time as the “gift of a special moment,” Sherbert said.

Ferrell said by reassuring the family that they have done all they can do and explaining the process of dying often puts them at ease.

Sherbert said a wife became frustrated because her dying husband had no appetite. Sherbert explained to the woman that she needed to understand that when the appetite goes he is just preparing for his journey upon which he will need no food. The wife thanked her for explaining the process to her, Sherbert said.

The Talladega County parish nurses organized a local chapter they have named EACH – East Alabama Congregational Health. Presently the group has 100-115 members.

Each year EACH sponsors a parish nurse retreat. The event is designed to provide nurses with a social and professional network, resources and educational opportunities.

The retreat will be held at the Heritage Trail Conference Center in Fayetteville April 20-21. Courses offered include “A Caregiver’s Journey through Dementia,” “Childhood Food Solutions,” “New Guidelines on Concussion/Head Injury” and other selected subjects. The attendant can also learn more about the parish nurse concept.

The retreat is open to all nurses. Pre-registration is required and more information is available by calling Alberta Cook at 256-245-2655 or Martha Sherbert at 256-362-4474.

Contact Mark Ledbetter at

© 2012