HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (RNS) -- Each Wednesday around 4 p.m., Eugenia Evans
places a sign reading "Get Your Blood Pressure Checked" at the end of a
long table in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church. She lays out
a digital blood-pressure monitor and the chart she's using to track the
weekly blood-pressure readings made on her fellow congregants.
Shortly, some of the church's many senior citizens begin to drift
into a fellowship hall made increasingly more welcoming by the aromas
from a kitchen where cooks prepare the weekly meal for those attending
Wednesday evening services.
Evans, a registered nurse, spends five hours each week working in an
experimental program she designed for her fellow First Baptist members.
In addition to Wednesday blood-pressure checks, she will coordinate
health-related programs for members and people in the community and
serve as a resource for those needing referrals to other types of care.
She has been hired--though just for five hours each week--to be
the church's first parish nurse. In that role, said Evans, who has
worked 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. Programs
are designed in different ways to meet the needs of individual
congregations and communities. But generally, parish nursing combines a
traditional ministerial/counseling function with expertise in health
care education, screening and referral skills.
And that suits Evans: "It's why I went into nursing--to minister
to people," she said.
"'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 in
the program is interesting and educating the public--members and
nonmembers--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 takes
advantage of the blood-pressure screenings, said she thinks the program
is a good idea.
"Our church has been a leader in many things in the community, and I
think 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 several
health-related programs, such as the Alzheimer's and Parkinson's support
group, the bereavement group and others," including exercise classes,
Evans was certified as a parish nurse after taking a master's-level
course at Samford University's Moffett School of Nursing in Birmingham.
She spends Wednesdays at First Baptist doing administrative work, trying
to get the fledgling program up and running. She was given a small
office in the Christian Life Center and a six-month trial period to see
if the program will benefit the congregation and community.
The parish nursing concept started in Chicago at Lutheran General
Hospital in 1984 and quickly spread throughout the Midwest. However, it
is still relatively new in the Southeast, said Barbara Weinhold,
coordinator of health ministries at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga,
"In Chattanooga, there has been a real responsiveness to what this
is all about," Weinhold said. "Part of it is the awakening to the
faith/health movement, which is abounding in the land.... People are
saying they need more than one element" of healing.
Parish nursing is different from home health nurses, said Kay
Hamrick, a pastoral critical care nurse at Huntsville Hospital and a
theology student at the University of the South in Tennessee.
A parish nurse is not under the guidance of a physician and can't do
anything invasive such as giving shots or drawing blood. And parish
nursing programs must combine two viable components: an inward call of
someone in nursing to minister to a congregation and an outward call
from a congregation for a nurse to minister to its members.
Sharon Ball, a registered nurse with Hospice Family Care in
Huntsville, hopes to go into parish nursing when she retires in a couple
of years. She plans to take an October course at Lutheran General, the
birthplace of the movement and the hospital where she worked immediately
after receiving her nursing degree. She also took a "Spirituality and
Healing" course earlier this year in Clearwater, Fla., to start her
training program as a parish nurse.
"It's like coming home for me," said Ball, a member at Ascension
Lutheran Church in Huntsville. "I can use the training both here (at
Hospice Family Care) and at my church."
She hopes the 10 to 12 nurses who are members at Ascension will
eventually form several care teams to offer a full-time ministry with
"I can see all kinds of uses for parish nursing," she said. "We can
use it as a counseling program, for educational purposes, coordinate
volunteers and other things."
Weinhold, who has coordinated Memorial Hospital's program for three
years, 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 they practice.
"Some hospitals hire nurses and provide them benefits while the
congregation pays their salary. Others are hired by the church, and
others are volunteers," Weinhold said. "It can be tweaked and adjusted
to any denomination or faith. It just needs to meet the needs of the
(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