UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2008 / 0528-Ministering for Wellness

Ministering for Wellness

*By Melissa Hinnen

May 28, 2008—Julie Taylor encourages local churches to incorporate health ministries as part of a holistic approach to serving the mind, body and spirit of the congregants. She combines her professional training as a registered nurse with her passion for holistic care, in her role as a faith community nurse at Pathways United Methodist Church in Springfield, MO. While the church does not function as a direct healthcare provider, Taylor asserts that the local church can act as a strategic link to promoting wellness and disease prevention within the community.

“Faith community nurses might be paid or volunteer ministers of health and are part of the church’s staff,” says Patricia Magyar, executive for Global Ministries' Health and Welfare unit, “We help them network for support and resources and we provide print and online information for nurses to meet the needs of their congregations.”

Comfort and Guidance

Noting that, “sometimes it takes a person not as exhausted and emotionally vested in a situation to look at the options and offer sound advice,” Taylor recalls a time that an elderly man was struggling to care for his 98 year-old mother. He had been awake with her for 48 hours while she was in pain and calling out for help. In desperation, he contacted Nurse Julie from his church to come over and sit with his mother and calm her. When Taylor asked if he had considered that he may need more consistent relief in caring for his mom, he said he and his mother both agreed it was time for her to move to a local nursing home but he was unsure how to make the arrangements.

Taylor made the appropriate phone calls to the social worker at the nursing home to check availability and determine the correct process. She then called the woman’s doctor to arrange for the proper paperwork to be released to the nursing home. She stayed with the woman while her son gathered what was needed. After his mother was transferred to the facility, Taylor checked in regularly to see how she was adjusting and to speak with the son to answer any questions he might have. Two years later, the son continues to be grateful for the help he received in a stressful time, and is a powerful witness to let others know the value of parish nursing.

Faith community nurses customize their practice to meet the needs of each congregation. Services might include arranging for the communion elements to be brought to people in the congregation who are unable to come up, helping people navigate the healthcare system, or offering weight loss or nutrition programs. A faith community nurse might send a special grief holiday letter to those who lost a loved one in the past year or coordinate a casserole ministry to members who are ill at home. They offer prayer and comfort; as well as affirming guidance and wellness advice.

Clustering and Collaboration

“It is important for United Methodists to be aware of the opportunities they have to develop this type of ministry,” Magyar notes. “We often forget that part of being disciples is caring for our bodies as a temple of God.” She adds, “Faith community nurses like Julie Taylor are providing a meaningful service to their local congregation as well as to other churches in the regional conference.”

In addition to her work at Pathways UMC, Taylor works with the Ozark North and South Districts to encourage local churches to implement health ministries. She has developed material for congregations who want to start a program and urges them to network and collaborate in their efforts. At the Missouri Annual Conference, her team of five parish nurses will host a break-out lunch to help prospective and current parish nurses resource together to develop and expand their programs. The lunch will be open to both nurses and pastors because, as Taylor explained, “educated pastors are helpful advocates in developing a health ministry. Once they understand the ways that a faith community nurse can be the eyes and ears in the community and work in synergy with their ministry, most are enthusiastic to support the program in the local church.”

Empowering Ministries of Health

The Empowering Ministries of Health conference, produced by the United Methodist Church is scheduled September 21-24, 2008 in Lake Junaluska, N.C. According to Magyar, "the conference will give participants tools to use and customize for their health ministry. They will then be better equipped to create and advance the health ministry in their area or church." This year’s conference will include a tract focusing on parish nursing. Click here for more information or to register.

* Melissa Hinnen is the staff writer for UMCOR communications