HMA Today – Winter 2014
Jan Erlenbaugh Gaddis, R.N., FCN
Parish Nurse at Holy Cross Catholic Church in partnership with Franciscan St. Francis Health
When I first began our parish Health Ministries at the Church of the Holy Cross, I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, take over any ministry that was strong and vibrant, or create something that would not be embraced. There were a few things I could do as a parish nurse that wasn’t being done at the time, for instance, blood pressure screenings, a health fair and office visits for health counseling.
Holy Cross has always been known for a thriving St. Vincent de Paul conference with ministries to the poor. I was aware that the needs in our center-city neighborhood were monumental and that one parish nurse could not attack it – a team approach was much needed. I was also aware that my nursing would be totally different than ever before, that perhaps my attention would be to the volunteers who provide services to those in need. I wondered the first day “on the job” what a nurse would do in a church, even though I had completed the foundation course for parish nursing and health ministries – I wondered what I would do? The insight came to me that I would show up, be present, see what presented itself and go from there. I have reminded myself of this every day for the past 17 years. Health Ministries is a ministry of presence, working with others to bring about hope and healing in faith communities. It is not about the nurse, it is about the People of God coming together to bring about the Kingdom of God – a ministry of compassion and care for each other and those who are marginalized.
Holy Cross has a strong St. Vincent de Paul presence in the neighborhood community. The team meets all kinds of folks living on the fringes – the homeless, near-homeless, and those with mental and physical challenges, along with emotional and relational issues. The parish nurse participates on the periphery but mostly pays attention to these volunteers who are giving of themselves endlessly. The service that is given and received is phenomenal for a small parish but is also life-giving in the outreach provided to so many in need. Following the example of our new Pope Francis, the efforts have increased even more. At times the volunteers find themselves in an overwhelming situation or with compassion fatigue they are not even aware of, struggling with their own family issues while trying to serve others.
Holy Cross had the opportunity to offer a Mental Health First Aid class for these volunteers. It was a tremendous awakening for many of how to deal with folks they meet on the streets or the work they do. It also helped some identify areas of concern in their own lives. Through this process of learning and sharing, the classes helped the team be more balanced in the care and compassion offered. The parish nurse supports by advocating self-care/self-nurture measures, lending a listening ear, and spiritual companioning as they come to deeply experience Christ in the presence of these suffering folks. There is a prayerful presence among the community now, with deeper compassion and stewardship of time, talents and treasures. We are grateful for the services and opportunities at Holy Cross to feed the souls of the parishioners so they are healthy and whole to reach out to those in need. This is greatly in line with the Franciscan spirituality of “far-reaching, all-embracing sympathy of Christ.”
Holy Cross Health Ministries is able to build relationships, make connections and be of service to those in need through a faith community effort. We are able to witness Joy in the midst of sorrow, Hope in the midst of despair, Order in the midst of chaos, and Gratitude for all the blessings and grace provided to this vibrant community. We are blessed to be in partnership with Franciscan St. Francis Health to provide the ministries needed to meet these challenges in a changing world of health, healing, wholeness and well-being. May it be so.