Slideshow image

Debbie Belowitz, parish nurse at an Anglican church in Brantford, Patrick Ferguson, parish nurse at St. Aidan’s Anglican Church, London, Rev. Canon Kevin George, rector at St.Aidan’s, and Elsie Millerd, parish nurse at St.John’s Anglican Church, Kitchener.

By Elsie Millerd

Is it possible that the church has lost its relevance in our society to the exact measure that it no longer sees its role in touching people?

This is the question which Laurie Duke, a parish nurse from Burnaby, BC, asked as she introduced the 21st conference and annual general meeting of the Canadian Association for Parish Nursing Ministry held in London, Ontario from May 23 – 26, 2019.

Could the re-focus in holistic health and healing – that of tending to our bodies, minds, souls and spirits – become through parish nurses the very gift that the church has to offer to our fracturing communities today and thus rediscover its place in society?

She suggested that we imagine every church with a parish nurse 25 years from now. That may seem impossible but Duke had set the scene for the near 50 participants as they considered what is involved in expanding the horizons of the parish nursing ministry.

The conference consisted of opportunities for participants to share resources and initiatives that they use to expand their horizons in their faith communities. They shared examples of outreach activities in their practice under their roles of health promotion, health education, advocacy, health counsellor, coordinator of volunteers, integrator of faith and health, liaison with resources and researcher.

Lanadee Lampman, parish nurse at St. James Anglican Cathedral in Toronto, described how the cathedral had become a symbol of God’s presence and love in the community over the last 20 years of parish nurse ministry through Gloria Wiebe and herself. She described how the quiet initiative of foot care in the weekly drop-in centre at the cathedral has now developed into a collaboration with street health nurses who bring wrap around services and continuity of care. Other efforts went into building a sustainable pastoral care team, addressing the harm reduction needs brought about by the opioid crisis, and developing an array of professional connections through volunteering at the Journey Home Hospice for homeless people who are dying.

St. Aidan’s Anglican Church (London) “Creating Caring Communities” program was introduced by Patrick Ferguson (parish nurse) and the Rev. Canon Dr. Kevin George (rector). They described how the program addresses mental illness with education, commitment (covenant), welcoming environment, ongoing support and advocacy. The program encourages awareness of mental illness and develops congregational member’s abilities to come alongside people suffering with mental illness. They had participants examine their experiences of receiving care, the negative attitudes and stereotypes towards mental illness in churches, and what needs to be done to create a safe environment for people with mental illness. They also provided the opportunity for participants to experience healing prayer just as they provide this in their parish.

There was an opportunity for non parish nurses to learn more about church health ministry through a designated session. The assembly also learned about the new program at the Lutheran theological seminary in Saskatoon, called the Master of Theological Studies in Healthcare and Parish Nursing. It is cohort based (requiring six or more students to start) and features online courses, part-time study and flexibility.

The conference was blessed by the music ministry of Bev Foster, executive director of Room 217 Foundation. Foster demonstrated how music is found in all stages of our life. She described why music works in care because it helps us remember, expresses thoughts and feelings, makes connections, supports well-being and rehabilitation, and nourishes the whole person. She provided several suggestions for how parish nurses can integrate music into care practice and gave participants opportunities to experience these resources.

At the evening banquet Foster related her own personal journey into music care ministry and blessed us by exercising her marvellous gift of music. She stressed the importance of using a variety of music genres, blending ancient and new music. The Solace Bedside Singers closed the evening with some of the songs and choruses which they bring to the bedside of dying people: Going Home, The River Is Growing, Shenandoah, We’re Walking Each Other Home.

This annual conference and meeting is a time for parish nurses from across the country to find companionship and support in their unique and sometimes lonely ministry. Through worship, fellowship, laughing, crying, walking and wonderful meals, the nurses found their empty cups being refilled for the days ahead. Strategies were developed to improve connections for mutual support when they return to their home parishes.

To learn more about the parish nursing ministry visit the website of the Canadian Association for Parish Nursing Ministry at

Elsie Millerd is parish nurse at St. John the Evangelist Church, Kitchener.