Development Of An Orthodox Parish Nursing Ministry

By Natalie M. Stavrevsky, RN

Parish nursing programs or ministries of nursing, within many mainstream communities of faith, have been in existence throughout the United State for the last twenty years. Generally, the basic purpose of these ministries is to create a framework within a parish in which members of the congregation can care for one another. The actual structure this project takes on within a parish community varies widely among parishes and from one faith group to another. The American Nurses Association (ANA) defines the practice of parish nursing in The Scope and Standards of Parish Nursing Practice.

For Orthodox Christians, parish nursing is a concept that can be possible at various levels of involvement by the congregation’s professional nurses. This article is meant to instruct and inform interested Orthodox parishes and Orthodox nurses about parish nursing, how a parish nursing program is possible in their parish communities and how their nurses’ professional expertise can be translated to work within our churches for the glory of God.

The history of healthcare has its beginnings in the ministry of the Church. Examples of Jesus Christ’s healing ministry are found throughout the gospels. The early Church teaches us of deaconesses who provided holistic care to those in need. Their vocation encompassed all aspects of physical need: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, and burying the dead. Health care historians recognize the continuation of this vocation within the Church’s monastic communities. By 300 AD, history records the first hospices that later evolved into modern day hospitals.

Today’s American nursing model has its roots in England. In 1860, Florence Nightingale was the first to define the profession as the “act of using the environment of the patient to assist him in his recovery.” In Nightingale’s definition, it can be interpreted that conditions of healing and wellness are not individualistic by nature, but dependent rather on the fullness of an individual’s environment. What more appropriate environment than our churches for nurses to assist and care for friends and loved ones in sickness and in wellness?

Responsibilities of a Parish Nurse

The American Nurses Association, Congress of Nursing Practice, in conjunction with Health Ministries Association, Inc., has adopted The Scope and Standards of Parish Nursing Practice (1998). These standards describe the responsibilities of the parish nurse, reflect the values and priorities of the profession in relation to parish nursing practice, and provide a framework for evaluation of the practice. In the introduction, the American Nurses Association says the following:

Health is viewed as not only the absence of disease, but also as a sense of physical, social, psychological, and spiritual well-being and a sense of being in harmony with self, others, the environment, and 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.

Professional nursing is rooted in these concepts of health and healing. Parish nursing promotes health and healing within faith communities. With the recognition that most illnesses and premature death are a result of life-style choices and diet, exercise, substance abuse, violence, and risk-taking behaviors, parish nursing integrates current medical and behavioral knowledge with the beliefs and practices of a faith community to promote health as wholeness and to prevent or minimize illness.
(ANA, 1998)

In practice, the responsibilities of an individual parish nurse vary from community to community. Parish nurses take on many roles. Today, many of our nation’s faith groups, including Roman Catholic and most Protestant denominations, have organized departments or ministries of parish nursing. Parishes of various faiths across the country have full-time employed parish nurses. In addition, many colleges and universities sponsor certification programs of instruction and continuing educational opportunities for the parish nurse. Included at the end of this article is a list of internet sites which demonstrate current applications of parish nursing. The list is intended for information only, not as an endorsement of any one faith group’s program.

Beginning a Nursing Program in the Parish

To registered nurses of the Orthodox faith, the concepts of parish nursing seem inherent to the beliefs of the faith we hold. Informally, nurses in parishes are frequently asked health related questions. Parish nursing intentionally expands that role by promoting health, wellness, and healing within a context that is holistic in nature.

Within an OCA parish, a nursing program can function in many ways. It should begin by gathering together all interested nurses in order to exchange ideas, express interests, note specialties, and pledge commitment. A program can be of any size, but should be organized to concentrate on one or any number of the following functions: health promotion, referral and advocacy, visitation, the facilitation and coordination of parish volunteers. Exactly what function(s) an individual program chooses to take on will depend upon the nurses’ professional interests, individual parish need, and the amount of time each nurse is able to devote to the program. It is important to note that these functions are, within the legal scope of professional practice, independent functions. Dependent functions of nursing practice, such as treatments or invasive procedures, are not considered to be within the scope of parish nursing practice.

The following are some suggestions for nurses in our parishes to begin organization of the practice of parish nursing.

Health Promotion

Parish nurses can disseminate health information and promote wellness within the parish community by:

Operating blood pressure clinics

Coordinating other community agencies to provide services such as flu shot clinics or cholesterol screenings on-site

Teaching classes or arranging for speakers on health topics of interest to the parish

Facilitating support groups for grief issues, caregiving, or weight loss

Providing individual counseling for the management of long-term chronic health problems such as diabetes, hypertension, weight management

Providing educational displays

Writing articles for the church bulletin or newsletter

Referral and Advocacy

Parish nurses can network within the community acting as a liaison for parishioners who are in need of health resources in their area. Functions may include:

Coordinating the plan of care following a discharge from the hospital or nursing home/rehabilitation center

Guiding individuals and families to community resources such as hospice organizations, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, or area doctors

Calling physician’s offices and advocating for members that need assistance

Acting as a spokesperson when a member cannot act on his/her behalf

Meeting with families to plan care, teach, and support


Parish nurses can bring a professional health care viewpoint to visitation of parish members in the hospital, nursing homes, or confined to the home. The nurse can:

Make home, hospital, nursing home visits in order to monitor health status, provide emotional support, encourage compliance with medical treatment, and recommend community services

Make bereavement visits

Make newborn, well baby visits

Communicate special needs and circumstances, as appropriate, to the parish priest

Facilitate and Coordinate Parish Volunteers

Parish nurses can identify parishioners with special needs. The following are some ways the parish nurse can coordinate lay volunteers:

The cooking and delivery of warm meals to parish members in a state of recovery from illness or surgery

Transporting those in need to scheduled appointments

Providing short-term respite for family caregivers, enabling them to accomplish personal errands

Coordinating congregational response to provide food, shelter, and health needs to the community during a crisis

These are a few suggestions. A program may be as simple as a monthly article on health promotion in the parish newsletter or a bulletin board dedicated to health information, referral services, or community agencies. Monthly blood pressure screening clinics are an excellent way for parish nurses to begin professional interaction with parishioners. A larger parish, with more nurses, may decide to organize a program of visitation and volunteer coordination for parish shut-ins. What is important and exciting is that parish nursing provides the framework for nurses of the Orthodox faith to offer their professional talents and expertise to their parish communities.

The following are some areas of resource for anyone interested in finding out more information:

Standards of Care: Scope and Standards of Parish Nursing Practice (9806ST)

American Nurses Association

Can be ordered on-line at:

Professional Organization:

Health Ministries Association
601 West Riverview
Dayton, OH 45406

An inter-faith, parish nursing professional organization with over 1,700 individual and congregational members.

Web Sites of Interest:

This is a very limited list. Please go to any search engine and type “parish nursing” for a complete list of parish nursing web sites.

Natalie M. Stavrevsky is a registered nurse, certified for Nursing Administration. She is the wife of Lt. Col. Ken James Stavrevsky, Chief of the Chaplain Service, Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, DC.