Church Health Ministry and Parish Nursing

Our ministry began to develop  in 1994, with a focus group under the leadership of Maureen MacLeod, the Reverend Audrey Fisher and the Reverend Henry Fischer. They shared the concept of “Parish Nursing” within the church’s call to develop health and healing ministries. They invited members of their communities, who had an interest in health and wellness issues, as well as a personal commitment to their faith.  These individuals expressed interest, participated in initiatives and were involved in their congregations, and came together to follow this developing ministry.

The focus group was challenged for almost a year with the concept of Parish Nursing and the church’s role in health and healing. They dealt with questions like:

  • Given the history of parish nursing in the United States, how would it work in Canada?
  • Did it duplicate existing services?
  • Was there a need?
  • What about funding?

The focus group became the Interim Board of what has become InterChurch Health Ministries (ICHM) Canada, now incorporated as a not-for-profit charitable organization.

The Interim Board identified the following mission that has shaped the organization and its ministry:

InterChurch Health Ministries Canada is a group of Christian congregations who share the belief that in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ we have a unique responsibility and contribution to make in the health of the community.

During 1995, the emphasis for the ministry was the initiation and development of a pilot project in five congregations with volunteer nurses for a one-year period. The basis for selection of the congregations was diversity:  downtown and suburban, rural and urban locations, large and small memberships. The denominational backgrounds included Anglican, Lutheran and United. The support of the clergy and the availability of a volunteer nurse were prerequisites.

Written materials and a basic manual were developed to assist congregations in establishing Health Committees, choosing a Parish Nurse and preparing congregations for the concept of a Health and Healing Ministry supported by a Parish Nurse Ministry. Intensive training and educational sessions were provided to Parish Nurses, Clergy and Health Committee members of the five congregations. The goals of the program were to integrate faith and health in the context of congregational life and pastoral care.

Throughout the pilot phase, intensive research and evaluation were done with the Nurses, Clergy, Health Committees and congregations. With a grant from Emmanuel College of Victoria University in Toronto, we published our findings in the document Pioneers in Parish Nursing in Canada.

Our research resulted in the development of our current model that is:

  • Congregationally driven
  • Theologically based
  • Mission and Ministry focused
  • Within the framework of interchurch partnerships

Since 1995, our ministry has expanded in Ontario from the five pilot congregations and Parish Nurses to over sixty congregations and parishes representing sixteen different denominations. Since 2003, ICHM Canada has worked collaboratively with an affiliate in Saskatchewan under the leadership of the Rev. Harold Hesje and Elaine Hesje. In 2003, ICHM Canada also supported the development of the first parish nursing education program in New Brunswick under the leadership of Sister Ernestine LaPlante.

ICHM Canada's Parish Nursing Ministry and Education Program

Since 1998, ICHM Canada has worked in partnership with the International Parish Nurse Resource Center (IPNRC) (whose name recently changed to Westberg Institute for Faith Community Nursing) to deliver parish nursing education in Canada using the IPNRC Parish Nurse Basic Preparation Curriculum. With the help of Canadian experts and presenters, the curriculum has addressed the Canadian context. Since 2008, a Canadian Appendix for each module has been provided to education program participants.

Based upon the philosophy of partnership and congregational development, ICHM Canada welcomed parishioners and clergy to attend the education program along with Parish Nurse Candidates. The program was delivered in three levels over 26 months. Parish Nurse Candidates were required to work with a mentor, attend monthly parish nurse support group meetings and demonstrate an understanding of the learning outcomes for each module. Prior to successful completion of the education program, each Parish Nurse Candidate would attend all classes and complete a practicum of 100 hours following each of levels 1 and 2.

ICHM Canada delivered Parish Nursing Ministry Education programs in partnership with the following theological seminaries:  Emmanuel College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario; Lutheran Theological Seminary, University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon; and the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario where, in 2009, the first parish nursing program was established.

As of 2015, 1,322 people have participated in parish nursing education programs across the ICHM Canada network. 124 parish nurses have graduated and 58 parishioners and 4 clergy have successfully completed the requirements of the program.

The  education program for parish nurses was updated by content experts every five (5) years. The 2015 education program was based on the newly released 2014-19 updated curriculum.


Representatives of ICHM Canada were present at an Invitational National Symposium on Parish Nursing held in Toronto in August 1998. This meeting, recognized as the founding meeting of a national organization beginning as the Canadian Parish Nurse Ministry Forum, elected a Coordinating Committee of which Gail Brimbecom, one of the founding parish nurses of ICHM, was a member. Her role during the foundational year was to chair a group on Identity which researched and developed definitions and terminology pertaining to Parish Nursing Ministry in Canada.

These definitions and terminology would become the base upon which Standards of Practice for Parish Nursing Ministry were subsequently developed.

The Canadian Parish Nurse Ministry Forum later became incorporated as the Canadian Association for Parish Nursing Ministry (CAPNM) and Gail served as Chair of the Board of Directors as the organization sought and achieved charitable status. She later chaired the Standards Committee which produced a position paper on the role of the Parish Nurse. ICHM Canada’s leadership at the national level continued as Karen Marks was elected Chair of the CAPNM Board of Directors and served two terms in that role. Representatives of ICHM Canada also took a leadership role in establishing the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) Parish Nursing Ministry Interest Group (PNIG).


The initial group or, Steering Committee became the Charter Board of the  incorporated entity, ICHM Canada.

As ICHM Canada headed into the next twenty years, the Board Chair was Jean Jackson followed by the 2015-2016 Chair, the Reverend Henry Fischer and 2016-2021 Chair, Clarence MacPherson

Twenty years later, this working Board is slowly phasing into a policy governance Board. The strategic planning process undertaken in 2016 fostered an oversight role for succeeding boards, and we continue to develop strategies for success in a new and ever changing world. ♥