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Ask Deborah: Reaching Out
July 9, 2012

Deborah Patterson knows health ministry. As the executive director of Northwest Parish Nurse Ministries and author of Health Ministries: A Primer for Clergy and Congregations, she works daily with parish nurses, pastors, and health professionals. In this feature, she answers your most pressing or perplexing questions on health ministry. Are you hitting a roadblock with a program in your church? Are you wondering where to start with health ministry? Do you feel like you need a new idea on a specific topic? Ask Deborah!

QUESTION: What have you found that works best to reach out to congregations to tell them about what you are doing?

ANSWER: Thanks to my parish nurse coordinator colleagues for lots of good ideas on this one. Those who gave this some thought are listed at the bottom of this answer, because “two (or more?) heads are better than one!”

First of all, within the congregation you are serving, we know that as you tell folks about what you are doing, you won’t share any private health information about individuals – that goes without saying. But you can share the type of activities you are doing, the programs you are offering, and you can share numbers of people served. In addition, with the permission of the person you are helping, you can share general health concerns or other prayer concerns with appropriate individuals or groups, such as the clergy, prayer circles, health committee, or the congregation. If in doubt, ask for permission about what you can share, and err on the side of personal privacy.

Related to telling people about what you are doing generally, of course you are going to do the obvious ways of reaching out to share the good news about what you are doing as a Faith Community/Parish Nurse, including:

  1. Sharing updates with the clergy in one-on-one or staff meeting settings.
  2. Sharing information about what you are doing with your health cabinet or committee (and be sure to tend your health cabinet well to keep them active and involved).
  3. Submitting weekly bulletin blurbs to the church secretary for inclusion in the bulletin.
  4. Writing a monthly newsletter article on a health issue and how people can help address the issue, either for themselves or others. (Lots of great resources through places such as the IPNRC and NPNM.)
  5. Creating a health ministry bulletin board and keeping it updated. (Volunteers can help.)
  6. Sharing a “health minute” during announcements at church.
  7. Designating a “Health Ministry Sunday” at church once a year, when you recognize your many volunteers and members of your Health Committee.
  8. Submitting an annual report to your congregation for their annual meeting about this ministry.
  9. Putting together small health blurbs for church e-mails. “Healthful Hints” from the IPNRC or some of the Facebook postings from NPNM or the Church Health Center can help with this.
  10. Collecting stories (without identifying attributes) that you can share with others. And perhaps you can use snippets, or “testimonials” in a brochure you create for your program.

I would also, however, suggest that you are called to help spread the word about this specialty practice and ministry with others. Talking about what kinds of things you do will help to spread the word about Faith Community/Parish Nursing and make it easier for other congregations to consider this ministry.

Here are some suggestions about how you can do this:

  1. If you work with a parish nurse coordinator at a hospital, volunteer to share some of your stories in meetings where he or she is introducing this specialty practice. Telling your stories will make his or her work so much easier! (Consider giving them permission to use part of one of your stories or testimonials in a brochure about their program that they can make available in print or electronically to others.)
  2. Tell your pastor that you would be willing to talk about Faith Community Nursing and/or Health Ministry at a clergy gathering if he or she would be willing to do this with you. This work is of such benefit to clergy – they need to hear from a good team about what can be done!
  3. Write down your stories for inclusion in a newsletter sponsored by the parish nurse network with which you are affiliated. Numbers are critical – so are stories.
  4. Volunteer to speak to local service groups about the work that you do. Perhaps there will be some ways you identify where you can work together. Leave a one-page handout for them to share with others.
  5. Be sure to connect with the chaplains in the hospital where you visit patients and let them know with which congregation you are affiliated. Leave your card so that they can connect back with you. Perhaps you will be invited to speak at a clergy breakfast about your work.

The fields are white unto harvest, and there is great need in many places for the type of work that Faith Community Nurses do. Please toot your own horn, help the coordinators with whom you work toot your (collective) horn, and help prepare the groundwork for others to plant seeds for health ministries in their congregations, as well.

Thanks to Karen Wright (Newport, OR), Rev. Dr. Richard Cathell (Bellingham, WA), Reen Markland (Winchester, VA), Candace Huber (Gainesville, FL), Sharon Hinton (Floydada, TX), Lee Clay (Fort Atkinson, WI), Mary McGrattan (New London, CT), Kathy Medovich (Vestal, NY), for sharing their ideas on this topic.

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Deborah Patterson is here for you and your church. To send in a question to Deborah, send an email and write "Ask Deborah" in the subject line. Please include your first name and location.