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When Faith and Healing Meet

When I was attending Mass with my family on a beautiful Sunday morning, a man collapsed in the front pew. He was elderly, and as it felt like a balmy 98 degrees in our beautiful old church that summer morning, I immediately assumed it might be heat stroke. I hoped it was nothing worse.

Our beautiful church, home to so many happy and meaningful events, was now the site of a frightening emergency.

My eyes filled with tears at his belief in the true source of healing, even in an emergency.

As the priest rushed from the altar to check on his congregant, and those near him called for a nurse or doctor, those of us in the back pews (yes, we were late arrivals) craned our necks to see what was happening. Was it heat exhaustion – or something worse?

Then I sensed something at my knee. I looked down to see my teenage son Matt on his knees – praying earnestly. My eyes welled up at his belief in the true source of healing, even in an emergency.

My son was acting out what many believe in – the intersection of faith and healing. Some, like Woodburn Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kent., have made the faith/health connection official. You can often find a nurse taking blood pressures at Woodburn, along with other holistic health services provided to the congregation.

This is part of a specialty nursing practice called “faith community nursing” by the American Nursing Association. Parish nursing is becoming an increasingly popular branch of modern nursing.

You can often find a nurse taking blood pressures at Woodburn, along with other holistic health services provided to the congregation.

“When you’re the only nurse in the congregation, they start coming to you with health questions,” Kacy Harris, the pastor’s wife and an associate professor of nursing at Western Kentucky University, told the Bowling Green Daily News.

There is a course offered at WKU called “Faith Community Nursing” that trains nurses to specifically care for the faith community. Other nursing programs in the U.S. offer similar classes. They work in both paid and unpaid positions as members of the pastoral team in a variety of religious faiths and cultures, in a number of countries.

Nurses who care for the health of the flock may take blood pressures, listen to symptoms, suggest a patient see their doctor for more testing, organize blood drives, and offer wellness education opportunities at church.

And, they pray with their patients.

“We have one foot in ministry and the other in professional nursing,” Carol Bradford, who teaches an online faith community nursing course, told the Bowling Green Daily News. “Faith community nursing’s uniqueness stems from the opportunity to build on longstanding trusting relationships to provide holistic health from womb to tomb.”

“Research has linked places of worship with health promotion and behavior changes,” reported Sabrina Finklea-Strickland, a nurse at Holy Names University, at the American Association of Nurse Practitioners 2014 National Conference. She noted that the “holistic focus” of nursing was a perfect fit for designing treatment options for members of faith-based communities.

She examined data from the Multi-Religious Identity Measure (MRIM) as well as a short-form health questionnaire (SF-12v2), in which subjects were randomly surveyed while attending services.

The study found that there was a direct correlation between members of faith-based communities who had a higher index of religious identity as well as a high health-related quality of life.

Kara Miele, a nurse with VNA (Visiting Nurse Association) in the Boston area who also works with hospice patients, tells LifeZette, “We always consider a patient’s spirituality in nursing. Healing is so many things; not just the physical. The mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of a patient’s life are all very important as well.”

“Behold, I will bring it health and cure, and I will cure them,” it says in Jeremiah 33:6. Faith and healing are merging in concrete ways in churches across the land, as the U.S. boasts over 15,000 faith community nurses, according to Parishnurses.org.

And the intersection of faith and healing gave this mom, on a hot summer day at Sunday Mass, a tremendous reason to be proud – and to give thanks.

As for the man who collapsed, he was fine. It was the heat. He was carefully tended to that day by professionals, and was back in church two weeks later.