Wellness where you worship: spiritual and physical health converge with Faith Community Nursing
From wellness classes and blood drives to vaccination clinics and help with medical resources, caring for others is the force behind a growing nursing program within the diocese. But it’s more than straight-up medical care that drives these nurses to continue their work. At the heart of the program is the people they serve.
Providing spiritual, psychological, and social care to parishioners is fulfilling work. And it’s something Nancy Banks keeps doing at age 82.
“When you get to my age, I have everything I need… I just want to help other people,” Banks said. “It’s who I am as a volunteer.”
Banks, a parishioner at St. Joseph Church in Arlington, began as coordinator of the Parish Nursing Program after retiring from her nursing job in 2006.
“It’s about reaching people who don’t have access to resources,” she said. “It’s about helping others, especially the older people in wheelchairs to make sure they receive Communion, or [that] any other needs [are met].”
Banks said as she visits people to pray with them after they return from the hospital, she often hears concerns about medical issues they are having.
“A lot of times they are anxious to get home and don’t listen to aftercare instructions,” Banks said. “They don’t want to bother the doctor with questions, so I say, ‘OK, bother me. I’ll listen to you.’”
Since Banks began her work, the parish has held numerous clinics, from wellness seminars to senior lunches. The well-established program at St. Joseph is what prompted Father Daniel Kelley, former pastor of St. Joseph and current pastor of St. Jude Church in Mansfield, to start a program at his current parish.
“I believe that starting the parish nursing program is very important,” Fr. Kelley said. “I have seen some very successful blood drives at St. Joseph, including during the pandemic.”
Fr. Kelley said Texas Health Resources, who partners with the church, has good ideas for community wellness.
“I have seen a lot of good things happen while I was at St. Joseph, including flu vaccinations, blood pressure checks, and other events,” Fr. Kelley said.
The Faith Community Nursing (FCN) program at Texas Health Resources is a specialty of nursing that focuses on the intentional care of the spirit combined with traditional nursing practice.
FCN partners with registered nurses within congregations to provide health-related programs tailored to meet the needs of the church and its surrounding neighborhood. Nurses who serve in the role have an active nursing license, have a minimum of two years of experience as a registered nurse, and are a spiritually mature member of the faith community.
Denise Brown, faith community nursing program manager at Texas Health Resources, is director for the Fort Worth area. The program is affiliated with all faiths.
Brown said she studied theology but was called to medical missions.
“God had a different path for me,” Brown said.
Her new journey aligned with the wishes of her heart — to work from home, serve the church, and be a nurse.
Brown said nurses get asked all the time about medical issues, be it which doctor to call, what ailment they think a person has, or how to handle a medical condition.
“If you’re a nurse, you have a health ministry in your church. You just don’t know it,” she said. “Once people find out you are a nurse, people start calling you, asking questions. Because you are a nurse, that’s an extension of what you do.”
But in doing so, a lot of nurses unknowingly face liabilities for information they share and lose protection otherwise given at their workplace.
“It’s very easy to make a mistake and think, ‘I do this all of the time,’ but outside of the hospital you are on your own,” she said. “Helping nurses understand boundaries is very important.”
The program at Texas Health Resources educates nurses on the legalities while providing support for educational programs and vaccination clinics.
Brown said many times people will feel more comfortable coming to a nurse with certain prayer requests they would otherwise not share with someone else, especially regarding abuse, neglect, sexuality, or past trauma.
“A nurse can minister in the moment or refer out to a specialist,” she said. “It’s encouragement. They can quote Scripture and pray … they provide a different level of care to those they reach.”
Those are reasons Tracey Garman, a parishioner at St. Jude, answered the ad Fr. Kelley placed in the bulletin to start the program at the Mansfield parish.
Garman said, “In passing I asked what the ad was all about.”
After Fr. Kelley explained the program, Garman thought, “What should I do? That would be a huge undertaking.”
Feeling called to help, Garman, despite her hesitancy, reached out to Banks.
“She was a wealth of information. She gave me contact information and next steps,” Garman said. “Then I met Denise Brown and jumped in full-scale.”
After a nursing career that spanned more than 20 years, Garman retired from her job last year, but she wasn’t ready to stop working, so this role was perfect.
Garman recently completed a nine-week foundation course in faith community nursing taught by Texas Health Resources.
“It was very intense; I felt like I was in one of my master’s classes,” she said.
Garman said the ministry is about creating a health and wellness team, building relationships with parishioners, gaining trust, and educating others about what the program offers.
“It’s not about me practicing clinical care. I cannot treat a parishioner as a patient,” she said. “I’m just making sure their access to health care is addressed and they are given prayers and resources.”
Garman said she is blessed to have a supportive parish. During a recent blood drive that she coordinated, 71 people showed up and donated 56 units of blood.
“I was so pleased with their generosity and their willingness to serve,” Garman said, adding she wasn’t sure prior to the event what kind of response she would have.
“The power of prayer is real.”