Here is a brief history of how Parish Nursing came about, from its foundation in the USA in the mid 1980s, to the establishment of Parish Nursing Ministries in the UK in 2004.

The Historical Development of Parish Nursing

The parish nurse role of today was initially developed by Revd Dr Granger E Westberg in 1985 in the USA. He recognised the role that nurses, with their knowledge of both medical science and of the humanities, played in effecting a professional relationship between the medical establishment and the individual within the context of their community. He established the Parish Nurse role, which now operates in approximately 28 countries altogether around the world.

In 2001 a group was convened by Dr Malcolm Rigler, General Practitioner, to explore the possibilities for development of this role within UK. Ann Solari-Twadell (author of ‘Parish Nursing – Promoting Whole Person Health Within Faith Communities’, Sage Publications, London, 1999) was invited to present the case for this at a National conference in July 2001.

Biblical foundation and scientific developments

One fifth of the Christian Gospel is devoted to Jesus’ healings and the ensuing debate around them. In Hebrew culture at this time, body and spirit were not divorced and Jesus viewed individuals as an essential unity. In His healing work He focused on relations between the person and God, the person and their neighbours, the person and the world. He commissioned disciples to continue his work. In The Acts of the Apostles we see that mission; a sense of wholeness and healing was an integral part of the work of the church. Since that time the church has, through its own varied experiences, sometimes of persecution and other times of acceptance and integration with the state, continued to engage in care and healing activities, but also in the developing debate between religion and science.

The influence of Greek and Roman thought and the development of science and particularly medical science throughout the ensuing centuries has led to a dualistic view of the person, with physical health perceived as the remit of doctors and health services and the church’s role relegated to the care of the soul.

UK context
In the UK it is clear that the National Health Service cannot comprehensively meet the burgeoning demand for increasingly complex health care and there is a need for individuals and communities to reclaim a responsibility for whole person care. The church, as part of its fundamental remit of bringing wholeness and salvation through Christ, is well equipped to engage more fully in this activity, reclaiming its original remit as commissioned by Jesus. However, those who undertake to operate in the ministry of health care need to do it to agreed standards and quality of care. The establishment of Parish Nursing as a recognised practice provides the opportunity to protect the public.

In December 2001, Rev’d Helen Wordsworth, a Baptist minister with a background in nursing and health visiting, submitted a dissertation toward an M.Th. to The University of Wales, developing the concept for application in the UK. Through subsequent conferences and consultations, a steering group eventually gave birth to eight pilot projects in a number of Christian denominations in January 2004, supported by an education programme.

A further group of 8 pilot projects commenced in January 2005, each nurse having completed the training course. The principles for practice in Parish Nursing were developed and standards of accountability and clinical governance were established.

Some steering group members attended the 18th Westberg Symposium on Parish Nursing in St Louis in September 2004 and at this Symposium agreement was reached on the development of a World Forum for Parish Nursing. A further group of pilot nurses and tutors visited the U.S.A. in February 2005 to observe and learn from practicing Parish Nurses in varieties of denominational and social contexts in Milwaukee, Chicago and St Louis.

The introductory course for registered nurses in the UK runs 3 times a year. The trained Parish Nurses are working in a growing number of churches or Christian organisations in England, Wales and Scotland (102 in June 2017), some churches having more than one Parish Nurse.

The new charity and not-for-profit company was formed in 2006. Parish Nursing Ministries UK has a Council of Reference, a board of Trustees, and eight part-time regional coordinators who work with the CEO, Ros Moore,  to promote develop and co-ordinate Parish Nursing in different parts of the UK.