By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN St. James Lutheran Church in Howard Lake offers a unique program not available in most churches, especially in this area.
The church has a parish nurse, who helps both parishioners and members of the community.
The parish nurse is Darlene Lind. She has been serving as St. James parish nurse since September 2005, after she and her husband of 51 years, John, moved to Cokato.
Before coming to St. James, Lind served as a parish nurse at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Litchfield.
Lind, who had a career in nursing, took a parish nursing program after her children were grown and she had more time.
She volunteers her services as a parish nurse at St. James each Wednesday, and at other times as needed.
She also teaches a nursing assistant program at Ridgewater College in Hutchinson part time.
The benefits of a parish nurse
Parish nursing is still a fairly new area of nursing, according to Lind. Parish nurses are registered nurses who have taken a preparatory course to educate them for parish nursing.
It was conceived by the late Rev. Granger Westburg of Illinois as a way to bring the ministry of holistic health back into the ministry of the church, which is the place of origin of the earliest health care practices, Lind said.
“A good parish nurse takes time to listen, to counsel, to pray with people,” Westburg wrote.
Westburg delineated five functions of a parish nurse: health educator, personal health counselor, coordination of volunteers, liaison with community health organization, and clarifier of the close relationship between faith and health.
Lind notes it is the last role that truly defines the unique ministry that is the parish nurse’s.
“Having a parish nurse has been a blessing in many ways,” said Rev. Martin Schoenfeld, associate pastor at St. James. “It benefits and supports the congregation and the community.”
Before becoming a parish nurse, Lind said she felt as though there was a piece missing in her nursing career.
While most nurses in health care settings minister to the body and the mind, the parish nurse is uniquely blessed to be able to minister to the spirit of the individual, according to Lind.
“Now, I can actually pray with people. We don’t do that in other health care settings. Being a parish nurse, I am looking at the whole person body, mind, and spirit,” Lind said.
When asked if parishioners come to her before going to their regular health care provider, Lind said it depends on what’s going on with them.
Parishioners will often stop her Sunday mornings before or after the church service to ask her health related questions, she said.
If a parishioner has a good health care provider, they often go to their doctor first.
Many parishioners ask her questions related to the medications prescribed to them, which Lind looks up in a book to help answer their questions, she said.
Oftentimes, parishioners will ask about their options for health care, telling Lind the doctor doesn’t have time to sit and talk to them about all their options.
Lind noted that more people are focusing on prevention and staying well. “They are following more health promotion ideas and actions, rather than waiting until they are ill,” she said.
Activities and programs offered by the parish nurse
As parish nurse, it is Lind’s responsibility to look after the health of St. James’ congregation.
Not only does Lind offer health screening such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, she also writes an article for the monthly newsletter.
Lind also coordinates volunteers to offer meals to elderly or ill parishioners and to help parishioners get to and from doctors’ appointments.
Another function Lind fills is to be a health advocate for parishioners, and help them to establish a health plan.
At this time, Lind is working to establish Fields of Grain at St. James. Fields of Grain is a program that delivers organic grain to customers.
Lind noted the program will especially benefit parishioners who have allergies, and those who just want to establish a more healthy pattern of eating.
While Lind used to offer a grief support group, it has stopped for now. She is working to re-establish it as a bereavement group.
Another program Lind has worked to establish is Faithfully Fit Forever, a program specifically designed for Christian congregations.