IT IS Monday morning. Madeleine Watts is in A&E at Stepping
Hill Hospital, in Stockport. "It's so busy it's untrue. On a Monday
morning it's just heaving," she says.
Mrs Watts is accompanying a patient in her position as parish
nurse at St Saviour's. She has a couple of hours before she is due
at the hospital's endoscopy unit, where she works as a staff nurse
for 25 hours a week.
Mrs Watts is one of 74 registered nurses in the UK actively
running parish-nursing projects, many of whom split their week
between parish nursing and a part-time NHS job.
It's a good combination, Mrs Watts says. "I'm proud to work for
the health service. But as a parish nurse, I have the commodity of
time on my side. I am also allowed to be openly Christian, and I
can pray with people if they want prayer."
PARISH nursing started in the UK in 2006, with the official
launch of Parish Nursing Ministries UK. The charitable company
enables registered nurses to offer practical and spiritual care as
part of a holistic gospel message.
The idea originated in the United States, in 1986; so far, the
ministry has been developed in 23 countries. At its launch, Parish
Nursing Ministries UK had trained 30 parish nurses. Seven years on,
the total is about 150, half of whom are currently running
"We've grown slowly and steadily," the UK co-ordinator for
Parish Nursing Ministries UK, the Revd Dr Helen Wordsworth, says.
"We haven't had a lot of funding; so a lot of voluntary time has
been put in by nurses, regional co-ordinators, and the national
team to try and get to where we are now. There are more
opportunities we could develop if we had the paid manpower. But
we're not going backwards; we're just happy to grow steadily."
Over the years, funding has come largely from Christian trusts.
The NHS provided a small grant, a few years ago, of £4000. But to
apply for serious NHS funding requires an in-depth bid, which there
isn't the time or resources to complete. Instead, the national team
is supported by an annual payment of £375 from each church with a
parish nursing project, as well as by individual donations.
"We can exist as we are at the moment: we can train all the
nurses that come to us. But we can't be proactive," Dr Wordsworth
says. "And we can't provide as much support as we'd like to,
because we don't have the co-ordinator time."
The growth to its present numbers has come largely by word of
mouth. "Everybody sees the benefits that a project brings," Claire
Goodman, the communications, resourcing, and development officer
for Parish Nursing Ministries UK, says. This has led to uneven
"We've got definite geographical gaps," Dr Wordsworth says. "We
have a cluster in Hull, quite a lot in central England and east
Midlands, quite a few in Eastern England, about three or four in
Wales, and about five in Scotland. But we haven't got many in the
South West yet, or the West Midlands."
AS WELL as growing in size, the scope of projects has widened.
"We're still doing a lot of core work, supporting the elderly and
dementia cases, being advocates and educators, health and blood
pressure checks," Ms Goodman says. "But we're also addressing some
of the critical issues coming into our lives, with food banks,
furniture banks, women in refuge, drug problems, and
Current projects range from providing health advice to teenagers
to outreach work with prostitutes, and providing end-of-life care
to people who choose to die at home.
"Parish nurses often end up saying that they didn't realise it
was going to be quite as exciting, or innovative, as it turns out
to be. Potentially, if the nurse has the time, and the need is
there in a community, they can develop any number of things," Dr
AS WELL as being registered with the Nursing and Midwifery
Council, and abiding by its code of practice, prospective parish
nurses need to be committed Christians, and to have had some
community experience, although this need not be in nursing.
Most parish nurses work voluntarily, although some posts are
funded. A few are full-time; most are part-time.
"It could be that a nurse gets interested, and feels that they
may be called into this kind of work, and then they go and talk to
their vicar, or their minister," Dr Wordsworth says. "Another way
is that a church will decide that they want to do it, find some
funding, and advertise the post; so the parish nurse may not be
part of their congegation.
"Or there may be a situation where a church doesn't have a nurse
in its congregation, and doesn't have any funding, where we could
match them up with any nurse who contacts us from their area. It's
the same for nurses - if their church doesn't want to do it, we can
match them to a post."
CURRENTLY, 40 per cent of parish nurse projects are run by
Baptist churches, and 40 per cent by Anglicans. Methodists,
independents, and Elim Pentecostal churches make up the remaining
20 per cent, but several parish nursing posts operate
Andy Powell, a retired general nurse, is a member of Trent
Vineyard Church, in Nottingham. He works two days a week as a
parish nurse for the Lenton Health and Wholeness Project, jointly
employed by Thomas Helwys Baptist Church, and Lenton Methodist
Church, in the city centre.
"It works really well," Mr Powell says. "They're both small
churches with a real heart for the community. The management group
comprises people from both churches; they work well together."
Most of his work incorporates health and dietary advice, weight
and blood-pressure checks at drop-ins, toddler groups, and cafés
run by the two churches. But he also runs a monthly healing and
wholeness service, and undertakes home visits, offering Bible
readings, prayer, and company. He also offers health checks at a
local sports centre, and responds to referrals for home visits from
the community matron and district nurses.
Julie Barry works as a parish nurse for a Baptist church in
Edenbridge, in Kent. But she has an ecumenical remit. "I'm employed
[voluntarily] by the Eden Church, but I'm owned ecumenically,
because the churches in Edenbridge work through the Edenbridge
Churches in Covenant.
"Edenbridge is a small town, and all the ministers know each
other and meet regularly. The Roman Catholic church often gives me
ASDA vouchers for the food bank, or the Anglican church might refer
someone to me who's fallen on hard times, who needs a listening
ear. It's a close-knit community, it's a great network, and we
don't work in isolation."
Having decided to start small in September 2010, Mrs Barry's
current work includes running a mother-and-toddler group, setting
up a mental-health drop-in run by Mind, health promotion at a youth
club, home visits, welcoming new shops and businesses to the area
on behalf of the churches, and dealing with referrals from health
visitors and social services for families in need.
"We do a food bank and a furniture bank; so I'm alongside people
in a crisis. Often, people will ask me to pray for them, and with
them; and I might invite families to Messy Church, which we hold
once a month, with a free lunch and a free breakfast."
She also runs a teddy bears clinic for nursery- and
reception-age children, to familiarise them with the hospital
environment at Edenbridge War Memorial Hospital - where she worked
until 2010, and until recently had combined one day a fortnight
alongside her parish nursing. "That role I did wearing my
minor-injuries practitioner uniform, but I now do it as a parish
nurse, as a service to the community; so that was a real joint
"The beauty of parish nursing is that you do what you are led by
God to do, so long as you've got the skills and the experience, and
it's something that your community needs."
BARBARA MacFarlane worked as an NHS nurse for more than 30
years. She left in 1997 to take up a post as a lecturer in nursing
at Dundee University. In 2008, she went part-time, and tentatively
started the Steeple Church Parish Nursing project, at a Church of
Scotland church in Dundee.
She started by offering health checks to city-centre workers;
but began to feel a challenge to work with the city's homeless
"I didn't really feel that I wanted to work with people like
that," Mrs MacFarlane says. But she found that God changed her
views after a Big Issue seller she knew died of pneumonia
associated with drug abuse and sleeping rough.
"The night of her funeral, I was doing my Bible reading, and it
was Matthew 25. I couldn't escape the call any longer. So one cold,
wet, rainy, horrible February day I got my Gore-Tex on, and went
out on the streets praying to God for help."
Mrs MacFarlane, who is 62, spent months asking homeless people
in the city what she could do to support them; she then opened a
drop-in clinic in the church hall, in conjunction with NHS
Tayside's health-and-homeless outreach team.
The drop-in was initially once a week. "We gave them lunch, and
just listened to their needs, and tried to address them. A lot of
the time it's about helping people to use health services more
effectively. They're not good at keeping appointments, or even
making then when they need them. Most of them have issues with
drugs, and alcohol, gambling - a real mixture of addictions - and
their health is appalling."
Now that the drop-in runs twice a week, a second parish nurse
has been employed, and the project has helped form a city-centre
network called DD1, the postcode for central Dundee.
THE benefits of parish nursing - to the church, the community,
and to individuals - are widespread, Dr Wordsworth says.
Mrs Watts, at St Saviour's, Stockport, says that the whole
church has embraced the work. "It's gone from the team to the whole
congregation; so they are the health promoters now. We even have
housebound people ask me for leaflets to give to their carers.
"The community know that the church cares for their body as well
as their spirit. We're not just interested in whether they come to
church on a Sunday."
Mrs Watts says that parish nursing has also provided an
approachable way for people outside the church to ask about faith,
or for prayer. For them, she says, talking to a parish nurse is
less stressful than talking to a vicar, "where they think they've
got to know all the answers about God.
"Our mission statement at St Saviour's is: 'Passion for Christ,
compassion for all.' What I do as a parish nurse embraces our
mission four-fold; I'm part of a very busy ministry team of the
If people come to faith, it's a "by-product," Dr Wordsworth
says. "If, through the caring, people find faith, that's great; but
they'll get the caring whether or not they move towards faith."
Research into the outcomes of parish nursing in the US is
widespread; in the UK, it is embryonic. But work undertaken over
the past four years by Dr Wordsworth suggests that churches
employing a parish nurse become more engaged with other agencies in
their community; the amount of volunteering by church members
increases; the amount of time spent with people outside the church
increases; and the kind of activities that churches do in their
communities gets broader.
THE fact that parish nurses work strictly within the protocol of
the Nursing and Midwifery Council, undertake study days to keep up
to date on current practice, are assigned a spiritual supervisor
and a clinical supervisor, and are audited annually, means that
parish nurses are generally respected by NHS colleagues.
"There is a huge future for parish nursing," Mrs MacFarlane
believes. "The NHS recognises the need for spiritual care, but
doesn't really have the resources to let nurses develop that very
fully, not at the moment."
Dr Wordsworth says: "We are currently seeking funding partners
who see the huge potential of this ministry, and are willing to
work with us to make it happen."
Mrs Barry, in Kent, would encourage churches or health
professionals "to go down the avenue of exploring if it's for
them", even if it is only for a few hours a week.
"If you're a busy NHS nurse, and have only two hours a week, you
could still do a lot. If you offer the skills and the time that you
have, there will always be something you can do that will have a
very positive effect in your community."
The Revd Dr Helen Wordsworth is one of the key speakers at
the Faith in Health and Healing Conference, taking place in
Birmingham, 24-5 April.