HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (RNS) -- Each Wednesday around 4 p.m., Eugenia Evansplaces a sign reading "Get Your Blood Pressure Checked" at the end of along table in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church. She lays outa digital blood-pressure monitor and the chart she's using to track theweekly blood-pressure readings made on her fellow congregants.

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."

Such questions serve a purpose, because Evans said the first step inthe program is interesting and educating the public--members andnonmembers--and finding out what individuals need. At First Baptist,she's using a survey to do that.

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.

A parish nurse is not under the guidance of a physician and can't doanything invasive such as giving shots or drawing blood. And parishnursing programs must combine two viable components: an inward call ofsomeone in nursing to minister to a congregation and an outward callfrom a congregation for a nurse to minister to its members.

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.

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