Parish nurses address physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of health in South Windsor

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Thu., Jul. 11, 2013
Margot Stillman is a registered nurse and a volunteer for the parish nurse ministry at Wapping Community Church. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.
Margot Stillman is a registered nurse and a volunteer for the parish nurse ministry at Wapping Community Church. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.

At Wapping Community Church in South Windsor there is a strong belief in the connection between faith and health. At the parish, a small group of volunteers - the parish nurse ministry - is dedicated to putting this belief into action.

“The concept of parish nursing is that it is addressing the physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions of health,” said Margot Stillman, a registered nurse and volunteer at Wapping's parish nurse ministry.

Parish nurses hold blood pressure screenings and present educational programs on such topics as exercise and nutrition. They do not provide hands-on care, nor invasive procedures or house calls. Instead, they can meet with parishioners to help them find community resources, lend advice about health-related topics, or offer support with coping issues. 

The parish nurses of Wapping serve according to the acronym H.E.A.L.T.H. (health counselor, educator, advocate, link to the community, teacher and healer). As health counselors, they are available to speak with parishioners about any health issues they might have. They are educators, helping parishioners understand the relationship between body, mind and spirit. As advocates, they help the parishioner obtain what they are entitled to from the health care system. They link parishioners to the community, and help them to access the assistance available from the healthcare system and religious community. As teachers, they recruit, train and support the volunteers who work in the nursing ministry. And as healers, they promote the understanding of the relationship between faith and physical well-being.

“Parish nursing is all over the country,” said Stillman. “The American Nurses Association has standards for parish nursing.” Volunteers must be registered nurses currently licensed in the state of Connecticut, and must have prior nursing experience. Experience in health counseling and knowledge of the spiritual life of the church are also required qualifications.

The technical know-how of registered nurses is certainly a vital component of what the volunteers offer. But offering a listening ear can be equally important.

As counselors, the ability of the parish nurse to understand the person they are helping is key. If someone is experiencing a crisis, it is important for the nurse to know what the person relies on, be it family, friends, themselves, or faith in God. “That can range from people who believe everything is in God's hands and everything happens for a reason, to people who ask, 'Why is God abandoning me at this point in my life?'” she said. “Those kinds of conversations may happen if we're asked to support a family member going through a crisis.”

The program has existed for about 10 years at Wapping. “There were seven of us in the beginning, and we all had different specialties,” said Stillman. “There was someone who was a cardiac nurse, someone who had been working with cancer, someone who worked with children, someone who worked in home care.” With a diverse team of nurses, the parish pastor was able to match a parishioner in need with the right volunteer. Today, the number of volunteers is dwindling, and they are always looking for new volunteers to add to the ministry. “We're looking for new growth at this point,” said Stillman.

Those who are interested in learning more about the Wapping Community Church parish nurse ministry can call 860-644-0833.

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