Rediscovering a Ministry of Health: Parish nursing as a mission of the local church
Helen Anne Wordsworth
Wipf & Stock £16
I SHOULD declare an interest in this book and topic. During my time as Chief Nursing Officer, under a previous government, I met Helen Wordsworth as she set out to explore parish nursing in the UK. I was struck by the challenge that lay in front of her: to gain support not only within the Church, but also within the National Health Service, would require her to gain the confidence of both healthcare professionals and people in church leadership.
Some 12 years later, this book demonstrates that Wordsworth understands what it takes to introduce a new initiative. The book seeks to provide a theological rationale and demonstrate the practical worth of parish nursing to the mission of the Church.
Parish nursing ministry commenced in the UK in November 2003, and it involves the appointment of a registered nurse as part of the church ministry team’s developing a whole-person health programme with both congregation and community.
The book covers theological literature on the mission of the local church and of parish nursing in the United States. It describes the qualitative study of 15 churches that have parish nurses and a control group of 77 other churches.
I was struck by the findings, which suggested that the mission of the Church was enhanced by parish nursing in three main ways. There was increased contact with non-churchgoers; volunteering by the churches around the health initiative increased; and the range of missional activities undertaken was broadened, not just in the realm of physical health, but across the board, in mental-health, community-health, and spiritual-health interventions. It also required church leaders to engage with other voluntary and statutory bodies.
The book demonstrates the opportunities that are there if the Church rediscovers a ministry of wholeness, and parish nurses offer a way to do that. Parish nursing enables the Church to meet those who are not churchgoers. It is about building relationships, and building the Kingdom of God.
The book provides the evidence that the NHS demands and that the Church should listen to. Parish nursing is not a simple way for churches to re-engage with health ministry. Parish Nursing Ministry UK has, however, done much of the hard work.
Wordsworth’s vision of having at least one parish nurse alongside, and as a complement to, health care in every large village, town, or district is achievable because of the sustainable support structure that has been put in place by Parish Nursing UK.
I would recommend this book to church leaders seeking to engage with their non-church community, as well as to nurses who have heard God’s call on their lives, and to those in the NHS who are seeking to engage with the voluntary sector.
As Wordsworth suggests, parish nursing not only offers a way of engaging in the work of God, but helps to build a society that allows people to discover purpose for living, that offers choice, and that makes it possible for lives to be transformed.
The Rt Revd Sarah Mullally is the Bishop of Crediton.