Shortly, some of the church's many senior citizens begin to driftinto a fellowship hall made increasingly more welcoming by the aromasfrom a kitchen where cooks prepare the weekly meal for those attendingWednesday evening services.
Evans, a registered nurse, spends five hours each week working in anexperimental program she designed for her fellow First Baptist members.In addition to Wednesday blood-pressure checks, she will coordinatehealth-related programs for members and people in the community andserve as a resource for those needing referrals to other types of care.
She has been hired--though just for five hours each week--to bethe church's first parish nurse. In that role, said Evans, who hasworked at Huntsville Hospital for nearly two decades, she focuses on the whole person--physical, spiritual and emotional.
Parish nursing is not so much a set of skills as a concept. Programsare designed in different ways to meet the needs of individualcongregations and communities. But generally, parish nursing combines atraditional ministerial/counseling function with expertise in healthcare education, screening and referral skills.
And that suits Evans: "It's why I went into nursing--to ministerto people," she said.
The term "parish" is more often associated with the Roman Catholicfaith and is somewhat foreign to most evangelical Protestantcongregations.
"'Parish' is not a word that rolls right off a Baptist tongue,"Evans said. "But it makes people ask what it is."
Cecile Lockridge, a 50-year member at First Baptist who takesadvantage of the blood-pressure screenings, said she thinks the programis a good idea.
"Our church has been a leader in many things in the community, and Ithink we should be a leader in this area," Lockridge said.
Another longtime member, Sarah Green, agreed.
"We try to meet the needs of the community and have severalhealth-related programs, such as the Alzheimer's and Parkinson's supportgroup, the bereavement group and others," including exercise classes,Green said.
Evans was certified as a parish nurse after taking a master's-levelcourse at Samford University's Moffett School of Nursing in Birmingham.She spends Wednesdays at First Baptist doing administrative work, tryingto get the fledgling program up and running. She was given a smalloffice in the Christian Life Center and a six-month trial period to seeif the program will benefit the congregation and community.
The parish nursing concept started in Chicago at Lutheran GeneralHospital in 1984 and quickly spread throughout the Midwest. However, itis still relatively new in the Southeast, said Barbara Weinhold,coordinator of health ministries at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga,Tenn.
"In Chattanooga, there has been a real responsiveness to what thisis all about," Weinhold said. "Part of it is the awakening to thefaith/health movement, which is abounding in the land.... People aresaying they need more than one element" of healing.
Parish nursing is different from home health nurses, said KayHamrick, a pastoral critical care nurse at Huntsville Hospital and atheology student at the University of the South in Tennessee.
Sharon Ball, a registered nurse with Hospice Family Care inHuntsville, hopes to go into parish nursing when she retires in a coupleof years. She plans to take an October course at Lutheran General, thebirthplace of the movement and the hospital where she worked immediatelyafter receiving her nursing degree. She also took a "Spirituality andHealing" course earlier this year in Clearwater, Fla., to start hertraining program as a parish nurse.
"It's like coming home for me," said Ball, a member at AscensionLutheran Church in Huntsville. "I can use the training both here (atHospice Family Care) and at my church."
She hopes the 10 to 12 nurses who are members at Ascension willeventually form several care teams to offer a full-time ministry withhome visitations.
"I can see all kinds of uses for parish nursing," she said. "We canuse it as a counseling program, for educational purposes, coordinatevolunteers and other things."
Weinhold, who has coordinated Memorial Hospital's program for threeyears, said parish nursing ministry draws from a divine example.
"From a Christian perspective, it was part of the model of Jesus,"she said. "He did a tremendous amount of healing in his ministry."
There is little cost to a congregation to start a program, she said.Parish nurses do have to be licensed in the states in which theypractice.
"Some hospitals hire nurses and provide them benefits while thecongregation pays their salary. Others are hired by the church, andothers are volunteers," Weinhold said. "It can be tweaked and adjustedto any denomination or faith. It just needs to meet the needs of thecongregation."
(For information on parish nursing training programs, call Dr.Gretchen McDaniel at (205) 726-2626 or Barbara Weinhold at (423)495-4401, or visit Advocate Health Care online.