You are Never Alone

As we at Covenant Lutheran Church in Stoughton, WI celebrate our 5-year anniversary of our Parish Nurse Ministry, we feel blessed and compelled to share the wonderful message of this mission within our church and our community.  Years ago, the Covenant family identified a gap in care that affected many of our loved ones.   Congregation member and nurse, Sue Richards, RN, BSN, FCN began her journey when she agreed to serve as our Parish Nurse, develop the role and ease this disparity.

In John 15:12, The Bible calls us to administer to one another— “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”.  Parish Nursing epitomizes this love through serving and engaging others in the ministries of health, help and healing based out of love.

The American Nurses’ Association defines Parish Nursing:

Parish Nursing is a unique, specialized practice of professional nursing which focuses on the promotion of health within the context of the values, beliefs, and practices of a faith community, such as a church, its mission and ministry to its members and the community it serves. Health is viewed as not only the absence of diseases but a sense of physical, social, psychological, and spiritual well-being and of being in harmony with self, others, the environment and with GOD.  Healing is the process of integrating the body, mind, and spirit to create wholeness, health, and a sense of well-being, even when curing may not occur.

The ELCA echoes this mission in their social statement on health, healing and health care:

Caring for one’s own health is a matter of human necessity and good stewardship. Caring for the health of others expresses both love for our neighbor and responsibility for a just society. As a personal and social responsibility, health care is a shared endeavor.

Affectionately, Parish Nurse Sue defines it as:

“Minding the Gap”.  Helping those whose situations fall within a gap (when needs are unmet)—whether it be lack of access to needed aid or the inability to identify basic needs and services. 

Sue believes that a “sense of community” is really the heart and soul of faith community nursing.  She noticed that this cohesive sense of community was sadly lacking at times in the greater community leading to gaps in care.  As a professional nurse coupled with her own life experiences, Sue, and nurses overall, develop a skill set that equips them to connect the need with the resource.  It may be physical—accompanying clients and advocating for them in the clinical setting, mental—attending to the isolated and transitionally challenged, and spiritual—listening to the Spirit and connecting with pastoral support. There is balance that is brought to the care and attention of all three of these areas. If one area is lacking, eventually the balance is thrown off.  It is the restoration of this balance that a parish nurse assists individuals in obtaining. This process of restoration is a journey.

Sue’s Parish Nursing responsibilities started with routine blood pressure screenings and providing health and wellness information via our congregational newsletter and weekly bulletin.  Her role, however, quickly blossomed into expected and, some unexpected areas of outreach.  Her role has grown and her engagements lie within these categories: Integrator of Faith & Health, Health Advocate, Counselor and Educator, Referral Agent/Congregational-Community Resource Liaison, Volunteer Facilitator, and Support Group Originator.

Sue’s endeavors include home visits, creation and oversite of a health cabinet and care team, whose joint focus includes promoting hospitality and spiritual healing. Sue is active in our community and serves on the Dementia Friendly Stoughton board.

One of her most memorable experiences came when she met a local citizen who had lost an arm in an accident years earlier.  He had found himself in need of having to administer eye drops 3 times per day.  As you can imagine, this posed a challenge to complete.  Sue began stopping over to dispense, however, soon engaged others within the community that wanted to help.  The joy of seeing citizens from different faiths, backgrounds and work responsibilities come together to lend aid was heartwarming to say the least!

Sue has lead our church in several initiatives including a Women’s Health Retreat.  Open to several congregations and our community, it features health and well-being practices for women.  Yoga, meditation, and spirituality are just a few of the topics explored.  She also involved the entire Covenant congregation in a “step” program during our Lenten season.  Sue created a walking challenge where members tracked and collected their weekly distances.  Our youth added these amounts to the tally board and each week we determined our distance traveled to a point on the world map.  We learned a bit about that location and prayed for its residents. It was both inspirational and educational as we learned about unique areas in our world!

However, Sue’s most rewarding effort thus far has come through the healing that occurs during the “Longest Night” service she instituted with the help of Stoughton area churches and the community.  Held on the Winter Solstice (shortest day of the year), just before the holiday season, this church service focuses on those who are grieving any type of loss.  It is designed to provide an opportunity for members and anyone in the community to grieve the loss of a loved one, a job, health, or a loss of any nature. This ecumenical service brings grief awareness to both our congregation and our community. Together, we support those hurting and acknowledge loss and the pain affecting so many of our neighbors.  Sue will continue to lead this important outreach that provides healing and brings our community together.

Sue would agree that keeping healthy boundaries both for herself and those in need can be challenging yet necessary.  Sue shares, “It’s important to know when a request is simply too great to fulfill.  Knowing when to help versus when to refer someone elsewhere is difficult but still serves a vital need of education and communication.  It’s tempting to want to be able to help everyone, however, that is simply not possible.  We have wonderful resources within our cities and county and the key is to connect the individual who may not know of their existence.”

Covenant Lutheran is blessed to have Sue Richards share her gifts, energy, and love.  We hope that Sue’s journey and message can encourage others to explore this ministry.   Sue shares “The road can be a long and at times difficult one. I am honored to be walking along side so many on this journey of love, faith, and hope.”