Faith community nurses: lightening the load in churches, neighborhoods, and cities

L-R: Bernice Dushey, RN, retired nurse educator and faith community nurse; Pastor Eduardo Mack of the First English Seventh Day Adventist Church in Santurce; and Betsy Johnson, RN, a faith community nurse working at Emmanuel Bincow 7th Day Adventist Church in Ashton, Maryland.  They visited our WBMJ studios as part of a promotion for a health fair that the church in Santurce is hosting.

L-R: Bernice Dushey, RN, retired nurse educator and faith community nurse; Pastor Eduardo Mack of the First English Seventh Day Adventist Church in Santurce; and Betsy Johnson, RN, a faith community nurse working at Emmanuel Bincow 7th Day Adventist Church in Ashton, Maryland. They visited our WBMJ studios as part of a promotion for a health fair that the church in Santurce is hosting.

Did you know that some churches have a nurse on staff?  Over the years, many churches have come to realize that having a nurse, in addition to a pastoral team, opens new doors into the community that allows them to reach people in a powerful way they could not before.  In addition, a faith community nurse, as these professionals are called, help to lower the burden on the pastoral staff.

How do these special nurses help churches?  For one thing, they can strengthen a pastor’s ministry to the sick or shut-in significantly.  “We all know that pastors are incredibly well trained,” says Bernice Dushey.  A retired nurse educator and missionary nurse to Africa, she helped spearhead the faith community nurse program at her church.  “But pastors are trained mostly in what we would call the psychological interventions – things that are emotional or psychological.  If they go into the hospital to visit a sick patient, they are kind of in a box.  They can pray with the patient, they can read the Bible to them, but they do not have the medical training to understand what is happening – or what should be happening.  So having the nurse there allows them to intervene in a more specific, targeted way.”  In addition, she notes that having the nurse there on staff also makes the pastors more comfortable about going to see sick people.  “Many pastors go through what everyone else does when they talk about visiting a sick person: uncertainty, maybe they don’t know what to do.  Having that professional there changes the whole dynamic.”

Having a nurse on staff also opens doors for the church into the community.  “The world out there is full of health needs,” Dushey says.  “And when we can show up, knock on someone’s door, and offer them health, that opens whole new ministry opportunities.”  The result is that churches are equipped to become more than just a spiritual center – they become a whole person center.  “We know that before Jesus healed people’s souls, He first healed their bodies.  In other words, Jesus is just as interested in the physical health of a person – and how He can relieve suffering.”

Of course, not all churches are big enough to have a dedicated nurse on staff.  This is why it is so important for churches to network.  Betsy Johnson says local churches must get out and look for resources.  “For example, the local health departments and community leaders are there to help.  That is their job.  Many times the local churches think they have to reinvent the wheel, but all they need to do is to go to the people who are already working in those communities.  Ask them what the needs are.  Ask them what the resources are.”  She notes that her church cooperates with their municipal government to offer health classes and Bible studies in the senior center, in addition to ministry opportunities in the local homeless shelter and community gardens.  “Jesus says that we will be known as His disciples if we are together in unity,” she adds.  “So it is vitally important that all Bible-believing churches work together.  We have Lutherans who help in our community garden, Baptists, Pentecostals, Anglicans – everybody helping out.”  As churches unite around common needs, much more can be done with fewer resources.

Bernice and Betsy are visiting Puerto Rico to help out at a series of health lectures and a health fair at the First English Seventh Day Adventist Church in Santurce.  For more information about that event, click here.

To hear the inspirational interview, click here.  To learn more about the Whole Health and Wellness program at Betsy Johnson’s church, click here.

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