Donelda Parker heads the parish nurse initiative at Christ Church Cathedral (Rosalind Kellett photo)
What is a parish nurse? According to Canada's association of parish nurses, it is "a health ministry of faith communities which emphasizes the wholeness of body, mind and spirit."

"Rooted in the vision of Christ as Healer, this ministry grows out of the belief that all faith communities are places of health and healing and have a role in promoting wholeness through the integration of faith and health," the association says.

The church has long been engaged in healing ministries from the healing by Christ and his apostles, to the establishment of hospitals as places of hospitality, to the Grey Nuns' movement in the 1600s, to church-based schools of nursing. Florence Nightingale received her training in a Lutheran nursing school in Germany.

However, as nursing became more scientific and evidence-based, the focus of nursing moved to caring for the physical and emotional needs of the sick. The moral or religious vocational aspects of caring for a person's body, mind and spirit were almost abandoned.

In an attempt to get back to a more holistic practice, the parish nursing movement was launched in the American Lutheran Church in the 1960s. Over time the movement came to Canada and to the Anglican Church, and in 2001 the Canadian Association for Parish Nursing Ministry (CAPNM) was formed.

In British Columbia today, some 24 parish nurses are ministering, nine serving Anglican parishes, and of these four serve in our diocese-two at St. Cuthbert, Delta, and two at All Saints, Ladner. All are registered nurses who also meet the standards of CAPNM. Most have community health nursing experience and theological training. The association also includes retired nurses and clergy.

What does a parish nurse do? The nurse provides pastoral care, both in-home and at the hospital. He or she collaborates with the clergy and counsels parishioners.

The nurse works with all ages, does health promotion and accident prevention education and helps people navigate the health care system. In the parish, the nurse may organize a health and wellness fair, participate in leadership and worship, and provide health messages for the parish newsletter.

Very important to the work of a parish nurse is a small group of volunteers, sometimes known as the "Health Cabinet," that supports and evaluates the parish nurse's work. A parish nurse must be called to this ministry by a parish or faith community.

Although Canada's public health care system is enviable, it is not always as accessible or comprehensive as it could be for everyone. The parish nurse doesn't duplicate or replace the work of the health care system, but maximizes its effectiveness to enhance parishioners' quality of life by integrating health with faith.

If you think your parish might need a nursing ministry and you wish more information, contact: Canadian Association for Parish Nursing Ministry at The International Parish Nurse Resource Center (USA) is at