Parish nurse helps congregation stay healthy
May 1, 2006
By John Gordon*
KIRKWOOD, Mo. (UMNS) — Carol Connolly is part of a growing movement of
churches addressing not just the spiritual needs of their members, but also their
“It encompasses the life span,” said
Connolly, a registered nurse who works two days a week as parish nurse at
United Methodist Church
near St. Louis.
“We can start with the tiny newborns up through the dying. And all in
between, there’s just so much to do.”
A typical day of holistic healing might find Connolly
checking the blood pressure of the ROMEOs — an informal church group
whose name stands for Retired Old Men Eating Out. Many of the members are
in their 70s
“I’m 80, and I don’t consider myself that old,” said
Ken Edscorn, one of the ROMEOs. He strongly endorses parish nursing. “I
just feel it’s a very important part of our community effort as a church.”
Another ROMEO, Robert Frost, 72, said the weekly check gives him reassurance.
Frost said he closely monitors his health since suffering his first heart attack
“As long as I get as much as I can out of each day, that’s all
I expect,” he said.
When she’s not checking blood pressure for
the ROMEOs, Connolly might be taking young girls from the Uniquely You class
to a restaurant
for a lesson
on healthy eating. The class teaches self-esteem to girls between 9 and 14.
Boarding the church bus to go to the restaurant, Connolly reminds them about
the food pyramid.
“Go back for seconds and thirds if you like,” she said. “Remember
Sarah Bonner, 9, said she understands the importance of choosing the right
“Because if you don’t, you’ll get fat, and then you’ll
get really sick,” she said.
Kirsten Shipley, 10, said the field trip reinforced
the importance of healthy eating. “I think that learning it now will be important for our future,” she
Each parish nurse’s job is different and
depends on the needs of the congregation, Connolly said.
“Essentially, the job is health maintenance, disease prevention,” she
explained. “We look after the worried well. And so, it involves programs,
phone calls, blood pressure screenings.”
In contrast with most nurses, her job is hands-off
when it comes to invasive procedures. “It’s not hands-off for touching and for hugs,” she
Another day might find Connolly visiting the home of a member who bumped her
head on her car and wanted to know whether she needed to see a doctor. Dorian
Taylor, 87, said the parish nurse gives her comfort and assurance.
“Indispensable — that’s the word I have for her. And a blessing,” Taylor
Connolly also arranges courses in yoga and tai chi, a slow-motion form of
martial arts that develops balance and strength. Last year, she made more than
1,200 phone calls to church members. In addition, she has held programs on
midlife issues, living wills, widowhood and stress.
She also met with church members to lessen some of the confusion about new
Medicare drug benefits.
“I think everything that you’ve learned, everything that you’ve
experienced (as a nurse), comes together in parish nursing,” she said. “Parish
nursing is really the reason we went into nursing. This is the culmination
of all the experiences.”
Connolly said her role often is to provide a caring
voice to someone who is worried about a possible medical problem. “When you visit somebody that’s
worried, you can say, ?I can’t cure what you have, but I can help
you heal,’” she said.
“When you visit someone that’s dying,
and you sit by their bedside and hold their hand and say a prayer, you hope
makes a difference. I think
And Connolly said a caring voice and TLC are two of the biggest things a parish
nurse can offer.
“It’s not just the medical model,” she said. “It’s
your heart, it’s your mind, it’s your body, it’s your spirituality.”
*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or