My Parish Nursing Journey: Judi

I first started to think about using my nursing training and experience in the church community in the 1980s. I was aware that musicians, teachers, administrators, preachers, youth workers, builders and others could all be used in the church environment, but when I suggested that nurses could offer their gifting as part of the pastoral care team, there did not seem to be much enthusiasm.

It wasn't until I moved to Tauranga in 1998, after a traumatic few years of my life, that I really began to feel that I could no longer ignore a call to Parish Nursing. I started to search the internet and discovered that not only was this a valid branch of nursing, but there was a three week residential course on Faith Community Nursing at the Lutheran seminary in Adelaide.

After reading Granger E. Westberg's book 'The Parish Nurse", I decided to enrol for the course. It was there that I met Elaine Tyrrell and discovered that she was very keen to set something up in New Zealand. The course ignited my vision, giving us good information on how to get started. Full of enthusiasm I approached the pastor of my church.

He was quick to see the possibilities of nursing within the church community, but wanted me to set it up as a business model. This entailed charging me for office space and use of office equipment, and he expected me to charge the congregation for my services to recover my expenses. This did not fit with the clear vision I had of giving my nursing to the church and local community. However, I tried it for a while and God moved amazingly, but needless to say I could not charge people and the ministry became expensive for me. Then after 2 years the church folded and I was left wondering what all that was about.

The next church I joined seemed keen to start a nursing ministry and talked about a healing centre, but in reality only wanted to use me for babysitting elderly parents or young children to give church members a break. The pastor, a newly diagnosed diabetic, was keen to tap into my knowledge for himself, but did not seem to understand that his congregation could benefit in the same way. Again, this was not what I had envisaged. By this time I was becoming disillusioned and frustrated and my enthusiasm for both church and my calling started to wane.

However, after a break from church, and still undergoing healing from my earlier traumatic years, I realized that I could no longer ignore my faith and my call. As a result I started to attend a very small church at the end of our street, feeling that I would then be in and among my local community. Once again I approached the pastor and shared my vision. He was very enthusiastic and readily gave me some office space once a week to run a clinic, and was keen to pass on any nursing/pastoral care needs. For a while I felt that finally my vision was being realized, but as time went by I felt the need to talk to him or the pastoral care team about some of the more complicated cases. To my frustration I was forbidden to discuss anything with anyone on the grounds that I would be in breach of the privacy act. After over 40 years of hospital nursing and used to being part of a team, I found this extremely difficult, but determined to press on.

Then there was a big split in the church with most of the membership moving away, and I was finally over it all. I spent the next few months praying about 'what next'. Meanwhile, having learnt already that I could not isolate myself from the church community, I decided I would try a large Anglican Church in the centre of Tauranga. I felt safe and anonymous with a reliable liturgy and decided that I would just 'be' in a larger church.

However, little did I know that a couple of nurses in the church had been talking with the vicars about setting up Parish Nursing. Neither of them wanted or knew how to set it up, so when I started to attend the church they tentatively asked if I was interested. I gave an emphatic NO! I felt that I had 'been there, done that' and could wear the tee-shirt!

Many years ago I had worked with my ex-husband, a surgeon, in an African mission hospital for 2 years, and had always wanted to go back to Africa. Now I was on my own I felt that the time was right. An opportunity arose for me to go to Tanzania to teach in a new nursing school there for 2 months. My intention was to stay for 2 years if it seemed right. I really felt that I was being called back to work I loved. I was very excited and felt that I was really where God wanted me to be.

It was a disaster! I loved the people and the work, but the person heading up the school was an archetypal British missionary, autocratic and old fashioned, teaching the African nurses 16th century hymns and totally killing their natural joy and laughter. I left after 2 months feeling dejected and defeated.

On my return home, I was again accosted by the nurses at Holy Trinity and asked if NOW I would set up Parish nursing! I was less than enthusiastic but agreed to meet with the Vicar and the 2 nurses. Before anything else was said at the meeting, I launched in with my vision and clear guidelines about how I would want it to operate, and that I was purely a nurse with vast experience and was not interested in counselling or working alone, but saw my role as the nursing arm of the pastoral care team. It was exactly what they had envisioned, and were very impressed that I already had pamphlets, forms and paperwork plus all my own equipment!

It was agreed that I would attend the Wednesday morning service which was attended by those who preferred a shorter, quieter mid-morning service or were too frail to cope with a larger congregation and a longer service. During the morning tea after the service, and at a clinic I held afterwards, I soon got to know some of our older parishioners. They in turn alerted me to others they knew who would like a visit. I also requested to be included in our prayer chain emails, a valuable source of health information in the Parish. I was given a slot at both Sunday morning services to introduce myself and Faith Community Nursing to the congregation. So, despite being a relatively new member of the congregation, and therefore not knowing many people, I very soon had more work than the one day a week we had agreed upon.

Now, 20 months on, I could work full time in the church there are so many things I could do. As I have to earn a living, and I believe that I will stay more current by continuing to work in my hospital setting, I limit myself to working with those parishioners I feel that can best benefit from my particular experience and knowledge. This involves visiting in homes and rest homes, walking along side those journeying with cancer, stroke, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's sufferers and their spouses, pre and post-operative patients, blood pressure and blood sugar testing, and many times just being a listening ear.

Finally, after all the years of false starts and disappointments, I feel that I am working in an area that God has called me to. While my role is still developing and I am still feeling my way in many areas, I feel fulfilled and often excited at the way God is able to use me in the Church setting.