November 21st 2016 saw a landmark occasion as the first European Conference on Parish Nursing convened in Lachen Speyer-dorf, Germany.

The four day conference brought together representatives from Germany, Finland, Ukraine, Netherlands, America and the UK with the aims of sharing best practice, developing a philosophy for Parish Nursing and prayer.

Monday, Introduction

The conference began with a service of worship led by Pastor Bruno Heinz.  His theme was the last verse of Mark chapter 9: we need to be both salt and peacemakers…but these are not natural partners.

The evening session was an opportunity to be introduced to one another with photos of the places from which the representatives came.  Finally they all went to bed with Psalm 27 v 1 ringing in their ears.

Tuesday, Biblical Understanding of Healing

Dr. Steven Simon led prayers on the theme of “what is the church…”, from Matthew 22.   He emphasized that the role of the church is not to tell people what to do, or how to vote, but rather to be the hands and heart of Jesus in the world.

The speaker for the morning was Dr Beate Jacub, from the German Institute of Medical Missions,Tubingen.

  • Learning from other countries: Health is not only and not primarily medical;
  • Ecumenical studies on health and healing: Christians and Christian churches/communities have a specific task in health and healing.
  • The Biblical understanding of health and healing.

Learning from other countries:

What contributes to health in an African community? (Malawi)  They said

“Health centre, safe water, good food, mutual respect, relationships, prayer.”

Definition of health in Malawi: “Health includes my physical wellbeing but I am only healthy if my family is well too. Health also means to have peace with my fellow human beings and with God.”

The meaning of health in Lesotho is a relational issue:

Person, family, village, land, spiritual realm, the earth.

Ecumenical discussions on health and healing, DIFAM (German institute for medical missions) in conjunction with World Council of churches.

Jesus’ healings and his command to preach and heal.

Later: the church focused on the ministry to preach, while the ministry to heal narrowed to taking care of the poor and sick.

The 19th Century saw a new emphasis on healing ministry with medical missions: Most mission stations included a school and a hospital, but they transferred the western medical model to countries of the south.

There were major challenges after World War II: The rise of independent nations: the limitation of a curative approach: the question of whether or not poor people benefit? And whether or not the root causes of disease are tackled?

Christian medical leaders met at Tubingen in the 1960’s.  And asked “Does the church still have a healing mission?” Their discussions produced a new, expanded definition of health:

“Health is a dynamic state of wellbeing, of the individual and the society: of physical, mental, spiritual, economic, political and social wellbeing of being in harmony with each other, the material environment, and with God.  It has a relational, spiritual and community dimension.

“The Christian church has a specific task in health”

“The Christian ministry of healing belongs to the whole congregation”

What is the added value that the church brings?:

  • Holistic services, compassionate care, especially when physical and mental health are lacking.
  • Community involvement
  • Option for the poor and marginalized

The Biblical understanding of health and healing.

Healings…approx one third of gospels, illustrating a variety of healing methods.

See Mark 2 1—12, Luke 17; 11—19. James 5 14—16.

Jesus healing touch, faith, restores dignity, wholeness. “Your faith has saved you”, (made you well, not cured).  In other languages health is more expansive. Santé, Sanitas, Shalom.

In Germany, even though there are Diakonie and Caritas, both church-based organisations,  these are the professionals…the congregation has no involvement.  Parish nursing is bringing back the involvement of the congregation.  They are places of worship as well as social networks.  Communities/congregations have resources to contribute to health. They can become partners of the formal health system, not competitors. (e.g. In Germany carers get state funded training to care for their relatives….in some countries this could be provided by the congregation if not by the state.  The congregation can be a link between health professionals and people.

Ann Solari-Twadell commented: “The congregation is the only place that true whole person health can be provided.”

Churches have worship and rituals, Hope and comfort. Lamentation and praise, Prayer for the sick, laying on of hands, Anointing with oil, Reconciliation, Holy Communion, Rituals marking important moments in life. Prayer for the dying, Biblical passages..a source of strength. Sacred places, Social network.  Company, relationship, Listening, care for the marginalized, safe space, health education, encouragement of moderate lifestyles, working for justice and peace.

Health is medical but also a relational and spiritual issue.

Shared Culture

After Dr Beate Jacub presented, there followed presentations from Finland, including research on spirituality of the Diakonie, and the Netherlands, including research from the churches regarding willingness to engage with Parish nursing.

When you start talking about Parish nursing with congregations, check…are we talking about the same thing: re Nurse, re Church, re Health.

We come from a diverse background, not only in terms of culture and language but also doctrine and worship. Yet as Parish nurses we have core values.

The Core curriculum was originally developed by a community, rich in diversity but we also had a core piece that brought us together.  Every five years it has been revised , again by a diverse community that shared the same philosophy, vision and mission to see every church have a parish nurse on its ministry team.

To do this we need the wisdom of God, and Ann shared with us relevant verses from the wisdom literature in the Bible and the Apocrypha.

Practice examples:  During the evening session we had presentations from Texas, from the UK and from the Ukraine, describing the development, practice and aims  of Parish nursing in those countries.

Wednesday, Research

After prayers led by the Finnish delegation, the conference focused on research.  They looked at the need for evidence for both outputs and outcomes. Ann presented the research she had done to identify the nursing interventions used by Parish nurses in the US. Helen presented research from her doctoral study, which used both quantitative and qualitative methods to address the question of whether Parish nursing makes a difference to the mission of the church. She also showed some of the statistics gained from Parish nurses across the UK and some of the outcomes described by clients in a service user questionnaire.

The participants then divided into groups to discuss what research questions might be asked by different stakeholders:  The church, the funders, and other health providers:

HEALTH PROVIDERS

  • What do I get out of PN / what do I lose?
  • What is the difference between a Home health or District nurse and a PN.
  • Are we working in Competition?
  • Have PN’s taken the best part of nursing?

FUNDERS

  • What needs are being addressed?
  • Who benefits? Is this for the Church or for the Community?
  • Are there specific projects that can be funded?
  • What is the impact?
  • What money is saved?
  • What is the feedback?
  • Can anyone else do it?

CHURCH

  • Who is being helped?
  • How many people are being helped?
  • What are the nurses doing?
  • How is this helping the congregation? Does it bring new people?
  • Why a nurse?
  • What difference would a nurse make to our mission?
  • …Maintenance / confidentiality and ownership.
  • Why would we do it anyway?

In the afternoon there was a visit to Dudenhofen with the purpose of seeing the Parish nursing practice and were treated to wonderful Kaffee and home made Kuchen by the host team.

Thursday, Building for the future

On Thursday, the conference looked at how they could build the European network and planned a follow-up conference for 2018. The main aims for the first year are to:

  • Develop a philosophy / mission / vision
  • Produce a European news letter
  • Bring Prarish Nursing networks from other countries on board
  • Develop a research programme
  • Mission trips: opportunities could be advertised on our websites
  • Look at how to connect with Nursing students
  • Advertise places where courses and conferences are to happen.
  • Educators course, UK, Peterborough, Summer 2017

The final session was a service led by Pastor Gunter Schmidt, which ended with the opportunity to have a prayer of blessing and anointing as we concluded the conference.