Diocesan News

Parish health ministry tends to body, mind and soul

By S.L. Hansen

LINCOLN (SNR) - In the interest of serving members of the parish and community in a more holistic way, St. Cecilia Parish in Hastings launched a “Health Ministry” in 2013.

“Initially, there were some nurses in the parish who were interested in some outreach — being able to respond to medical needs that happened within the parish at the Mass maybe, or blood pressure assessments,” explained Father Joseph Walsh, pastor. “That’s really how it began.”

With his 14 years of experience running Catholic Social Services (CSS) for the Diocese of Lincoln, Father Walsh knew a thing or two about health ministry. He greeted their suggestion enthusiastically.

All three nurses were taking a course offered through Creighton University to become certified as faith community nurses (also known as parish nurses).

“It’s a 40-hour course that prepares RNs to become trained parish nurses,” said Susan Ferrone, one of the trio. “It’s a recognized specialty of the American Nursing Association.”

Through casual conversations with various parishioners as well as the three faith community nurses, Father Walsh came to believe that there was merit in creating an organized health ministry.

In time, the idea grew from simply having a first aid kit on site and a protocol for what to do if somebody collapsed at Mass, to creating a task force of nearly two dozen people representing education, legal, social services and health professions.

Early on, Father Walsh said he knew that it was important to listen to parishioners, so the task force could build something that was truly responsive. A survey was created, which was distributed and filled out one Sunday.

Father Walsh personally entered the results into the data processing system, all 623 completed surveys.

“That was really the game-changer for me,” he said. “I began to have a real sense of who the people are and what they need.”

He continued, “What the people were saying was, ‘We have real issues, real needs…Some are health-related, some are psychological, some are emotional… And we need some help.’”

Though the health ministry is still a growing program, its defined purposes are to link suffering people at St. Cecilia and St. Michael parishes in Hastings – as well as others – with people who can pray for them, visit them, and sustain them; offer programs that encourage healthy living; and be a resource of spiritual information and support.

Its ultimate purpose is to, “grow in our identity as a parish family and in our unity as the family of God.”

These efforts began even before the survey results were completely ready. In September 2013, they hosted the parish’s first blood pressure clinic. The same month saw the parish’s first “Blessing of Hands,” a rite especially for caregivers.

With the task force’s final recommendations delivered to the parish in January 2014, the health ministry proceeded in earnest. More blood pressure clinics were held. A mini-retreat brought spiritual renewal to nurses. Cancer-screening kits were distributed at Lenten fish fries. A blood drive included information about mental health for anyone who wished it.

Meanwhile, the task force disbanded and a smaller planning committee was formed. They were tasked with working on a mission statement, general infrastructure, communications via the parish web site, and a volunteer network.

The finalized mission statement reads, “The mission of the Health Ministry is to promote health and wellness of body, mind, and spirit within our parish and community.” Nurse Ferrone explained this holistic approach.

“We’re created by God to live on the earth and be resurrected, so a lot of our experience is physical, and that’s connected to our souls,” she said.

She noted that in Jesus’ own healing ministry, He always addressed the soul as well as the body.

“Many times His miracles began with some sort of physical healing, but that was just a gateway to deeper healing and forgiveness. That’s a great example of how those things are connected.”

Father Walsh said he sees the body-mind-soul approach as a way of meeting people where they are.

“People are engaged in well-being and a lot of it has to do with physical health. It’s on people’s minds, and it has a lot to do with personal happiness,” he said.

Above all, this health ministry neither duplicates nor usurps any of the professional health care services that are available through community professionals or CSS.

“We hope to be able to support and direct and maybe engage some of the people who are suffering as well as the service providers that are out there,” said Father Walsh.

Nurse Ferrone assured that the parish health ministry actively cultivates good relationships with the local hospital, CSS, and other organizations and health care professionals. This cooperation enables the ministry to acquire much of the literature and other resources they distribute to parishioners.

As for the future, she has no idea where God will lead this ministry, but response to the existing programs has been good.

“We are just in the beginning stage,” Father Walsh declared. “We’re still understanding the challenges and figuring out the most effective tools, but we’re getting some traction on it.”

The St. Cecilia Health Ministry team welcomes opportunities to speak with other parishes who want to start similar programs. For more information, contact St. Cecilia Parish at (402) 463-1336.

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