1. Taylor, Elisabeth Johnston
  2. Madrid, Amanda

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Imagine members of a community health nursing class pairing up and going to various neighborhoods where they pray while walking the sidewalks. The dyads pray conversationally and reflect the needs they observe while walking. That is what the students of the second author do once per month while enrolled in community health. That is also what the second author has done with fellow nurses while on short mission service trips abroad.

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Praying with eyes closed, head bowed, and knees bent or the body in some stationary position has long been a common Christian prayer practice. Certainly, this can enhance focus and prevent distraction. This practice may also be an interpretation of Jesus' description of prayer being "in one's room" after you have shut the door (Matthew 6:6). But many, perhaps especially those who are kinesthetically oriented or hyperactive, understand how prayer while walking can also foster focused and wholistic prayer (e.g., walking a labyrinth or around a cloister garden).


Intercessory prayer is to intentionally become aware of the plight of others, to be moved by this, and to present these inner responses to the greatest Healer. Thus, nurses who prayer walk can invigorate their intercessory praying for the health of patients and communities. Similarly, nurse historians Wall and Nelson (2003) documented how prayer was an integral part of the nursing work of 19th century sister-nurses. As one sister-nurse wrote in her diary after a hectic day at the hospital, "Our heels are praying very hard all day." Another example of prayer walking was told by a patient to the first author at a Christian hospital: "I was walking around the unit hanging on to my IV pole. I was feeling miserable. I couldn't believe it, but my nurse was trailing me and praying softly for me as we made laps around the unit!"



Prayer walking could involve one or a few nurses. It typically involves intercession within a conversational style of talking with God, just as friends converse. It can, however, also involve agreeing with a colleague to silently and privately pray simultaneously while working separately. What is pivotal to this type of prayer is the intentional intercession for those immediately encountered (e.g., patients, colleagues). Indeed, prayer walking often can be "interrupted" and the conversation revert to temporal matters just as conversations with friends do. These prayers typically involve talking with God about what is being experienced in the now. (For more information, see or google "prayer walking.")



Opportunities for prayer walking could include while ambulating a patient, pushing a wheelchair, or walking/driving to the next home visit. Talking aloud, even when it is prayer, however, can be socially inappropriate. Of course, prayer walking could be inappropriate and even harmful if it interferes with colleagues' concentration, conversation, or work. (A nurse who softly whistles or hums hymns at the nurses' station also can be very irritating!) Thus, always ascertain if prayer will disturb others or the work setting. Likewise, if you are with a patient, assess whether this practice would be helpful. Never assume that a patient wants your spoken prayers. Request permission in a way that allows the patient to comfortably refuse (e.g., "Would praying while we walk be helpful?").



Explaining prayer walking and seeking permission will decrease the chance of collegial or patient complaints. Prayer walk aloud if those it might impact grant permission and desire it. Remember, your praying does not have to be loud or even audible. Prayer walking is just one way to pray.


Even if it would be inappropriate and unethical to prayer walk, Christian nurses can continue to pray privately throughout their work. For example, nurses can take a deep breath and internally ask, Be with us, God, as they cross the threshold into a patient room. Nurses can intercede privately as they complete a dressing change, massage, or other therapeutic intervention. Indeed, the act of service exemplified in the ministry of nursing is prayer-without ceasing!


Wall B. M., Nelson S. (2003). Our heels are praying very hard all day. Holistic Nursing Practice, 17(6), 320-328.[Context Link]