Integrating Faith and Health
The Synod’s parish nurses promote well-being in congregations, schools, homes, hospital rooms and wherever needed.
During His time on earth, Jesus Christ demonstrated that He cared about people’s physical needs as well as their spiritual ones. Today, the Church continues to care for physical needs in many ways, including through parish nurses.
There are some 450 parish nurses serving throughout The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Although they may be most visible in their congregations for organizing exercise classes and encouraging people to swap out the coffee hour doughnuts for fruit trays, their most important work often takes place behind the scenes in homes and hospital rooms.
Parish nursing is a unique combination of professional nursing and spiritual caregiving, and parish nurses are there when a member is facing surgery, when a new baby is born, or when someone needs resources or advice on managing a new diagnosis.
“The integration of faith and health is what makes the parish nurse different from any other nurse you know,” says Dr. Marcia Schnorr, parish nurse at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Rochelle, Ill., and co-coordinator for LCMS Parish Nursing. “Many health-care facilities don’t allow you to talk about your faith anymore. … But it’s not whole-person care if you didn’t include the Gospel. You’ve left the most important piece undone.”
Serving the Congregation
Schnorr says registered nurses often turn to parish nursing as they near retirement age or, less commonly, when they have small children at home. The role allows nurses to continue using their skills while providing more flexible hours.
Ronda Anderson, parish nurse at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, took the latter path. She first heard about parish nursing when her three children were young. At the time, Bethany was just developing a part-time position for a parish nurse, which Anderson was glad to fill. As her children grew older, she was able to take on more and more responsibilities in the congregation.
Anderson makes home and hospital visits, serves as a health resource to members, coordinates volunteers who want to help others with transportation or meals, and promotes wellness in the congregation in various other ways. Once a month, she assists with Bethany’s easy-access service, so that members who have accessibility issues can still come to church and receive Christ’s Word and Sacraments.
In 2018, Anderson became the point person for Bethany’s partnership with Family Promise, a nonprofit that helps families get out of homelessness and back on their feet. Through this program, the congregation opens its doors to provide housing and meals for a local homeless family several times a year.
“We’ve got these core things that a parish nurse does, but the way that unfolds within your community can be so unique,” Anderson says. “I really see myself as being another set of ears and another set of eyes, listening, watching, caring and sharing God’s love with people in our congregation.”
Caring for Schoolchildren
For Dr. Patricia Braun, parish nursing has provided a new way for her to continue her long career in pediatrics. After working for many years as a nurse and teaching nursing students at different universities in Chicago, Braun became school nurse coordinator for the Chicagoland Lutheran Educational Foundation four years ago.
In this position, she serves 21 urban Lutheran schools and helps address health concerns that are often related to poverty or inner-city living.
“Early in my career, you thought of school nursing as band-aids and immunization records,” Braun says. “But it has changed a great deal. School nurses really are taking care of both acute as well as chronic issues children are facing. That’s a tremendous responsibility.”
Braun hits the road very early each day — “to not get tied up in traffic,” she says, as well as to meet with principals and parents — and travels between the schools to conduct hearing, vision and scoliosis screenings. She also regularly checks in with children who have chronic conditions like diabetes to see how they are managing their condition. Since she has a certification in mental health, Braun also works with children who are dealing with a traumatic experience, such as witnessing a shooting.
“Very rarely do I have a child that has not had a relative hurt,” she says, noting that there have even been shootings that have taken place near the schools. “That’s a lot of trauma for a child to carry.”
Since she can’t be everywhere at once, Braun teaches first aid to both faculty and older students to equip them to help each other and their families. But no matter what she has planned for the day, she’s always willing to drop everything to help a child or faculty member in need.
“I can’t say enough about how much I love what I do,” Braun says. “It’s been a unique challenge. It’s used all the skills I’ve prepared myself for, educationally as well as clinically. But most importantly, it’s sharing God’s Word.”
- About LCMS Parish Nursing: lcms.org/parish-nursing
Pray with Us
Your Son, O Lord, walked this earth and served those with ailments. Some who followed Him provided for the needs of the disciples and our Lord Himself. Be with the parish nurses and others in Your Church who provide for the needs of both body and soul. Let their love and service always be a reminder of Your love for all, a reminder of Your Son in the flesh, who redeems us and makes us whole, in whose name we pray. Amen.
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