Book Review

Health Ministries

A Primer for Clergy and Congregations

reviewed by Brianna Wagner

In Health Ministries, Deborah L. Patterson lays out a comprehensive guide to all that congregations have to gain from parish nursing. She begins with a history of health ministries, starting with Granger Westberg’s belief that the church is meant to “preach, teach, and heal.” At the time, Westberg was concerned about the increasing isolation and depersonalization in health care. Doctors were, and still are, concerned with curing and medicating, and less concerned about healing the body and soul, what Westberg would call a “wholistic” way. According to Westberg, parish nurses can help bridge that gap between the church community and health care.

Parish nurses are not trying to replace the work that physicians do in clinics, such as diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medications. Instead, they fill the emotional, educational, and spiritual needs of a congregation suffering from a personal disconnect from their health care providers. Health Ministries provides a wealth of ways that parish nursing programs can serve the congregation and the community, from teaching health education classes to advocating for patients to providing end-of-life counseling. However, it does not advocate for a “one size fits all” program. One health ministry is different from any other, depending on the individual needs of the congregants. It’s up to the parish nurse and the leaders of the church to convene and determine the direction of their health ministry. Patterson lays out an outline of all the concerns that budding health ministries need to consider as well as examples that

Drawing from the personal accounts of parish nurses in all manner of congregations, Patterson illustrates both the kind of work that parish nurses do and the kind of spiritual fulfillment they draw from that work. One chapter reports new and non-traditional programs that parish nurses work through across the country, such as transplant services and underserved neighborhood daycares. Another depicts the emotional experience of one nurse as she cared for an elderly congregation member as that member neared death. In another chapter, a parish nurse organized the knitting of prayer shawls, each of which provided great spiritual comfort to community members in need. Each story adds another dimension that all the community, the congregation, and the individual has to gain from the knowledge and compassion of a parish nurse.

In addition, Health Ministries provides an appendix of resources and guidelines for parish nurses just starting out. Some sections include budgeting, HIPAA and documentation, and organ donation in the congregation. Overall, Patterson provides a diverse introduction to the art of a health ministry and the benefits of employing a parish nurse to the congregation and the community.

Pilgrim Press, 2008

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