Parish Nurse Provides Thanksgiving Inspiration

November 23rd, 2011

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By , BSN, RN

I was sitting, thinking about Thanksgiving and where to go with my Wednesday interview this week when I started wondering about the real meaning of the celebration. Where do we as nurses fit into this national holiday?

While searching the phrase "nurses and Thanksgiving" I came across a reference to parish nursing. I hadn't heard that term since nursing school. So, I Googled it.

According to the International Parish Nurse Resource Center the mission of parish nursing is the intentional integration of the practice of faith with the practice of nursing so that people can achieve wholeness in, with, and through the community of faith in which parish nurses serve.

I needed to talk to a parish nurse. I found Sharon Teague, RN, BAAS.

Teague is a Deaconess in the Lutheran church and works as the head of the Parish Nursing program for The Federation of Lutheran Churches of Cincinnati and Vicinity. She was with an urban ministry in San Antonio, Texas, before being called to Ohio to minister. She oversees the works of other Lutheran parish nurses in the area, writes for the newsletters, and helps with program development. Her main ministry is to the large homeless population of Cincinnati.

"I really got involved in parish nursing back in Texas," Teague told me. "I was a Deaconess in my church and the District knew I was an RN. They asked me to be a health advocate. I was paired with a nurse from Austin who was building a network to share resources. That was about 15 years ago. Every nursing job I had included parish nursing somehow."

What does your church's parish nurse program do?

"We offer blood pressure clinics, self defense classes, and CPR. We do bible studies and health as it relates to taking care of our bodies. We have had line dancing classes for exercise and one church offers a weight loss class. Two churches offer annual health fairs and at other churches write articles providing people with health information.

"We produced information cards for our members to take with them to their doctors' offices. They list their medications on them, they have a list of questions to ask the doctor that we help them with during the classes or in one-on-one counseling.

"We are part of the Parish Nurses of the Ohio District, we attend the Pastor's Conference and we are offering a retreat called "Grace Place," a spiritual retreat for pastors and their wives."

Wow, this woman is busy. When does she rest? But, she was only getting started.

" Parish nursing is not just about caring for our physical bodies, it's about the mental self, the spiritual self, the whole body. To be whole, the whole self must be healthy.

"Those people without a good, solid spiritual base have much less hope and much less healing of their whole body when it is injured."

This brings us to the other part of Teague's job in Cincinnati. Who else are you working with?

"My real ministry is at Over-The-Rhine. We have a huge homeless population in OTR (OTR is a neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio—believed to be the largest, most intact urban historic district in the US). We provide mentors for anyone who wants to make life changes, get off the streets. We support them, befriend them, offer guidance; we even have clinics to help with healthcare. We have a computer lab, we help people look for jobs, apply for jobs, fill out forms on line. We try to set them up for success."

"Every week we offer donuts and coffee out on the sidewalk. We get about 40 people each week; we share the bakery goods and listen to their stories. Every Wednesday we have 70-80 show up for a free meal and when we celebrated Thanksgiving last week we fed 170. "

The holiday we know as Thanksgiving can be traced back to 1623 in this country. After the harvest crops were gathered that year, Governor William Bradford of the colony "Plymouth Plantation" in Massachusetts proclaimed:

"All ye Pilgrims with your wives and little ones, do gather at the Meeting House, on the hill… there to listen to the pastor, and render Thanksgiving to the Almighty God for all His blessings."

Sharon, where do you thing nurses fit into the celebration of Thanksgiving?

"This is how I look at nursing—as a vocation, not a profession. This is God's plan for me. I am so blessed that he has allowed me to have this ministry. It is about a compassionate caring heart. "

I think many in Cincinnati this year will be thankful for Teague's hard work and dedication to her own personal mission statement: To reach out to the invisible people in our community to empower and affirm their worth as children of God.

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