Health Ministries

Parish Nursing Ministry / History

The ministry of a Parish Nurse is a health care ministry/practice within the context of the life and mission of a local congregation or agency. These congregations, which reclaim their role in health and healing, understand the link between health and faith as part of their mission. The parish nurse is called to become part of the ministry team, to encourage each individual's physical, emotional, spiritual and social well-being in terms of their relationship with God, family and neighbour. This health care ministry is pastoral, strengthening the congregation’s ministry and enabling its parishioners to focus on serving God by serving others, with the healing ministry of Jesus Christ as our model and source of inspiration.

Parish Nursing Ministry is a health ministry/practice emphasizing the wholeness of body, mind and spirit. It finds its source in the mission of the church as it reclaims the Scriptural mandate to preach, teach and heal. It recognizes and affirms that it is God's desire that we achieve abundant life, discovering life in its fullness on our personal journey to wholeness, the shalom promised by God.

A Parish Nurse is:

A parish nurse is a registered nurse with specialized knowledge, who is called to ministry and affirmed by a faith community to promote health, healing and wholeness. (

Roles of Parish Nurse:

What might a Parish Nurse Do?

How does a Parish Nurse ministry function within the health and healing ministry of the congregation?

ICHM Canada is a non-profit group that provides support and education for Parish Nurses, Health Committees and Clergy in the development of Health Ministries.


Parish Nursing History

Parish Nursing as we know it today had its beginnings in the United States in April 1985. Granger Westberg, the chaplain at Lutheran General Hospital in Chicago, which had formerly been a Deaconess Hospital, initiated a project involving six congregations. In this pilot project, the basic focus of the role of the Parish Nurse was developed and refined.

The emphasis from its very inception was to equip and enable a congregation to become a health and healing place. The Parish Nurse becomes the catalyst to actualize the concept based on the scriptural and historical role of the church's mission to preach, teach and heal.

The healing ministry of the church had its antecedents in Judaism. Health, healing, wholeness were part of the spiritual heritage in which Jesus healed and ministered to men, women and children. Christ’s church was commissioned to be an agent for healing. Individuals were identified to carry out this ministry. They provided care, showed compassion, and offered support and counsel.

In the centuries that followed, orders of nuns and monks established refuges for lepers, the sick, and the physically and mentally challenged. In the process, the church invented hospitals. The Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity and the work of St. Vincent de Paul emerged during the 19th century, complemented by the Inner Mission movement in Germany of the Lutheran and Reformed churches that sought to address the casualties of the system. The challenge for the church was to recapture and reclaim what we now call a holistic approach in ministry.

One of the most creative responses was re-instituting the ministry of deaconesses in Germany. Out of this beginning, a nursing sisterhood was established and led the way in providing care in hospital and institutions, in congregations and communities. Eventually, the sisters moved out of institutional-based care, to community-based care. The community was the parish, the congregation. The sisters worked closely with the clergy to provide pastoral care to the congregation.

In 1846, in a suburb of what is now Pittsburgh, a Lutheran layman, William Passavant, brought sisters from Germany to establish a hospital based nursing deaconess movement. This led to the development of similar "deaconess" hospitals among the Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal churches. Deaconess nurses served in institutions, but individual nurses had no role in the parish. The link between physical and spiritual care gradually widened with doctors and nurses ministering to the body and pastors to the soul. Holism was lost. Spiritual needs were placed on the periphery of life and medicine, somewhat irrelevant in the face of the rising secular fundamentalism of contemporary medicine.

The parish nurse movement has reclaimed the individual's need for wholeness of body, mind and spirit, with a focus on prevention, wellness and pastoral care. Parish Nursing enables congregations to become warm, caring communities. In our hurting societies, we desperately need the unique ministry and care of the Parish Nurse in order for our communities of faith to become vital, hospitable Christian congregations, which are lively, winsome and ready for adventure.