Nurses are angels in comfortable shoes.  

                 --  Author Unknown

What Is Parish Nursing?

Parish Nursing

From: Presbyterian Church USA

Parish nursing is a growing specialty practice of nursing, recognized by the American Nursing Association. It is also a ministry that is embraced by many different Christian denominations. Registered nurses also serve in similar capacities in several other faith traditions.

Parish nurses are registered nurses, most of whom have several years’ (or more) nursing experience in hospital-based or community-based settings. Parish nurse basic preparation classes are available in many locations, from coast-to-coast in the continental US (as well as Hawaii and Alaska), and in several other countries on five continents.

Philosophy of Parish Nursing

Parish nursing is a recognized specialty practice that combines professional nursing and health ministry. Parish nursing emphasizes health and healing within a faith community. The philosophy of parish nursing embraces four major concepts: spiritual formation; professionalism; shalom as health and wholeness; and community, incorporating culture and diversity.


  • SPIRIT - The spiritual dimension is central to parish nursing practice. Personal spiritual formation is an ongoing, essential component of practice for the parish nurse and includes both self-care and hospitality, through opening the heart to self and others. Spiritual formation is an intentional process of intimacy with God to foster spiritual growth.

  • ROOTS - The parish nurse role reclaims the historic roots of professional nursing. Aspects of health and healing found in many faith traditions are embodied in the role of the parish nurse. The parish nurse practices under the scope and standards of practice and the ethical code of nursing as set forth in their country.

  • SHALOM - The parish nurse understands health to be a dynamic process that embodies the spiritual, psychological, physical, and social dimensions of the person. Shalom, God's intent for harmony and wholeness, serves as a foundation for understanding health. A sense of well being can exist in the presence of imbalance, and healing can exist in the absence of cure.

  • COMMUNITY - The practice of parish nursing focuses on a faith community. The parish nurse, in collaboration with the pastoral staff and congregants, participates in the ongoing transformation of the faith community into sources of health and healing. Through partnership with other community health resources, parish nursing fosters new and creative responses to health and wellness concerns. Parish nurses appreciate that all persons are sacred and must be treated with respect and dignity. The parish nurse serves the faith community, creates safe and sacred places for healing, and advocates with compassion, mercy, and dignity.

Root Assumptions of Parish Nursing

Parish nursing is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the historic practice of professional nursing, and is consistent with the basic assumptions of many faiths that we care for self and others as an expression of God's love.

Parish nursing is an idea born out of the understanding of the healing ministry of the church and the need to return to health care that focuses on the whole person to emphasize wellness, disease prevention, and health promotion.

Because they focus on wellness, disease prevention and health promotion, parish nurses often provide health screenings for congregations.

Sometimes called the Minister of Health, a parish nurse is a registered nurse with additional training who serves members of the congregation and often people in the community as well. The role of a parish nurse is not primarily to deal with sickness but more significantly to be:

  • a health educator and teacher to promote healthy lifestyles and help people understand the relationships between lifestyle, faith and well-being
  • a personal health counselor to help people sort out health problems and make appropriate plans for handling them
  • a communication link and support for community health resources and services, to provide referrals and be a liaison for the church and its members
  • a teacher of volunteers to recruit members and train them to carry out a range of supportive services
  • an organizer of health support groups to assist groups in the congregation with particular concerns
  • a resource to assist with the assessment of congregational and community health needs.

The parish nurse program affirms the church as a place for prevention of illness or "disease," as it teaches and supports us in living with "ease" physically, spiritually, emotionally and socially.

Churches struggle in ministry in many areas in which the parish nurse can open new opportunities. For example, developing ministry to and with families affected by mental illness, health concerns of elderly people, and nurturing young families are ways in which the church is called upon to minister to its parishioners in new ways.

Substance abuse, addictions, and violence within the family are areas in which the parish nurse can be an initial contact point in ministry to develop or strengthen education programs.

There are a variety of models in which churches are able to obtain registered nurses to be on the church staff, such as:

  • Congregation as sponsor
  • Hospital sponsor
  • Community agency as sponsor
  • Joint sponsorship
  • Volunteer

Larger churches have employed the parish nurse full time, while smaller congregations typically join in sharing a nurse as a part time staff.

Each of these models offers a different set of advantages to the church. Some will provide strength by creating alliances in the community or with other churches. Others offer a strong support system for the parish nurse and clergy. One model will work will in your church.

About Parish Nursing



A health cabinet of four or five members, enlisted from physicians, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, dietitions, physical therapists, health enthusiasts and the chronically ill, can identify needed health ministries in your congregation and give shape to a parish nurse ministry.

The cabinet may select the parish nurse.

The cabinet should recommend some parish nurse preparation before the nurse assumes office. Options available are:

  1. Minimum: a four-day introductory workshop.

  2. Preferred: a six weeks to three months course of study through a hospital or college, together with a parish internship.

  3. Optimal: a comprehensive study program through a college or university.

    Continuing education: Attendance at one annual parish nurse conference is recommended.


Yes, in several ways.

  • As a pastor, you declare Christ's foregiveness and love but also His healing ministry to the sick and His expectation of your care of the life he has entrusted to you. Professionally qualified, a parish nurse gives practical expression to this healing ministry.

  • As a pastor you may delegate some of the Christian teaching and motivation for health practices to the parish nurse.

  • The parish nurse can help you achieve your personal health goals.

  • Healing ministries that provide care to the infirm, release the love of Christ into the lives of both the receiver and the giver of care. The parish nurse is a point of release for Christ's love into the congregation.

  • Physical and psychological growth toward greater health is growth in the Christian life.

  • A nursing assessment may add to your understanding of the person and her/his spiritual need. For example, a couple distancing themselves from the church may be having serious marital trouble. To an elder or the pastor they hint vaguely at work schedules, weekends in the country or extended family care needs. They don't want to go public with their conflict. A parish nurse, trained in hearing the message behind the words and blessed with a woman's intuition, in some cases, will be able to elicit the truth from the woman member.


This question has two answers.

Parish nursing is not a community clinic opened in a church facility; parish nursing is more than nursing practice set up on a church. Parish nursing is a ministry, a 21st century extension of Christ's healing ministry, Christ's compassion and love for His people, His suffering and death to make people whole in body, mind and soul, His Spirit's striving within us to enhance the gift of life--these witness to and serve our Lord in parish health ministry. Fortified by this credo, the congregation, through a health cabinet or similar group, sets up the health ministry. The needs/opportunities present in the congregation and the integrity of the nursing profession will be honored.

For an effective working relationship between pastor and parish nurse these additional observations can be made.

In the congregation's healing ministry, the pastor and parish nurse are professional peers. Each has their own competence. As a pastor, you are called to a Law and Gospel ministry administered through Word (teaching and preaching) and Sacrament. Educated and qualified for ministry by your seminary and then certified for pastoral ministry and rostered by your church body, you are a professional person.

The parish nurse is by education a health-care professional. Many nursing procedures are independent judgments that do not require the physician's direction. This is true of most of the procedures the parish nurse is likely to do. Parish nurse preparation programs include content in team ministry. The parish nurse, too, is legally accountable to the nurse practice act of the state where licensed. But in a larger than human sense, the nurse has a health ministry to which God has called her/him.

Pastor and parish nurse have separate yet contributing functions in Christian health ministry. At their common point of meeting, they are bound to confidentiality by their professional ethics. Anecdotal material and information given in confidence to either the nurse or the pastor may not be shared. Professional assessments may be shared for the better care of the parson served.


  • Illness is an isolating experience. A woman confined for eight weeks with pneumonia commented, "No one called. I thought the church had forgotten me." A parish nurse or her volunteer will break that isolation, affirm the church's concern and reconnect the individual and congregation. This is a common experience among the homebound.

  • A parish nurse encourages and supports the medical regimen through warm presence, reinforcement of the regimen through explanation of the purpose and expected results and through prayer. This support is often critical to patient participation and eventual healing.

  • In the present health-care environment where the individual is increasingly responsible for his or her health, parish nursing connects personal responsibility with Gospel motivation and planned activity. Personal wellness should be a significant fruit of the Gospel.

  • Members neglecting moderation and general stewardship of their physical health are often responsive to the invitation to join others in the Christian community in joint wellness programs.

  • Some members--notably the bereaved, single parents, the divorced, the overweight and substance abusers--can profit from joining a support group initiated in the congregation or available elsewhere. A Christian health ministry can facilitate such participation.

  • The parish nurse can initiate activities in support of healthy lifestyles, today's key to tomorrows health.


  • In congregations committed to parish nursing, a deeper sense of Christian community than existed before has been a welcome discovery. In a society of transient relationships, the heart hungers for community.

  • Parish nursing raises the awareness of the congregation to this ministry's effect on the spiritual, relational, emotional and physical health of the whole Christian community.

  • Parish nursing organizes, trains and provides consistent volunteer service to the congregation.


Proclamation and Gospel witness are the principal ways of declaring salvation in Jesus Christ. But demonstration of the Gospel's power in the lives of believers has always been a part of outreach. In America, congregational health ministries may be the significant demonstration in the early years of the 21st century. This hypothesis is currently being researched.

Numerous examples of out reach ministries that combine parish nursing with proclamation in the community exist.

  • One pastor reports that on some nights people from the community outnumber members at health education functions.

  • A Texas congregation has tailored parish nursing to community outreach.

  • In some communities, unattached neighbors or family members have been drawn to the church by the parish nurse's service given a friend or extended family member.

  • Support groups are one avenue to the heart of the community.

In Your Community

Wellness Ministry Team

As congregation members age, health concerns are predominate. Parish nurses and other resources can help caregivers support all health aspects.

Caregivers Handbook

This handy guide provides resources, checklists and worksheets
 - all in one place.