Parish Nurses Minister to a Patient's Body, Mind and Spirit

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 25, 2002 | Go to article overview

Parish Nurses Minister to a Patient's Body, Mind and Spirit


Byline: Joan Broz

Parish nursing may appear to be a relatively new form of ministry, but churches always have helped care for the sick.

Even the Bible makes the connection when it talks about Jesus healing the ill and the lame.

"In the first 100 years of Christianity, healing was a blending of wellness with spirit and we are actually going back to our roots," says Sandra Kapica Razka, the parish nurse at Lisle's St. Joan of Arc Church. "Before there was the scientific aspect to health care, there was a spiritual side."

Nancy Durbin, director of parish nursing services for the Advocate Health Care System, agrees.

"When you look at some of the orders of nuns, community health nursing took its lead from them," she says.

As members of a church or synagogue staff, today's parish or congregation nurses are people of faith as well as registered nurses. They understand that the mission of a faith community includes healing and health as well as preaching and teaching.

"Parish nurses treat the body, mind and spirit," Durbin says.

Parish nurses are health educators, personal health counselors, support group organizers, volunteer coordinators, community liaisons, referral agents, developers of support groups and advocates for the relationship between one's faith and health.

They have skills in teaching and health counseling, as well as a knowledge of community resources. But perhaps most important, they are good listeners who pray with people.

"Our statement of purpose is to nurture the human spirit through health education, spiritual support and linking the needs of the whole person to resources within their community, their congregation and the health care system," Durbin says.

The modern origins of parish nursing started in May 1985, according to Saralea Holstrum, parish nurse at Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church in Naperville.

"The idea of a parish nurse began with Rev. Granger Westberg, a Lutheran pastor and chaplain at Augustana Hospital in the city," Holstrum says. "He saw firsthand that the healing process involved the mind and spirit."

With a Kellogg grant, Westberg began a three-year program at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge with six registered nurses, including Holstrum.

The former long-term care facility assistant of nurses says she "went to a program on grief and helping families where Granger presented his book, 'Good Grief,' and spoke of his dream of a nurse in the church."

From that start 16 years ago, the ecumenical program has grown nationally and internationally.

"The first Westberg Parish Nurse Symposium I attended had maybe 40 in attendance," Holstrum says. "Last year, the 15th symposium had registration cutoff at 900."

As congregations began to realize the benefits of the free services parish nurses provide, the position grew and each church tailored its program based on the needs of its community.

"At Our Savior Lutheran, we coordinate meals, transportation and whatever is needed for a family in crises," Holstrum says. …

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