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Welcome to the parish nurse column!!

This exciting specialty practice of parish nursing began in 1979 when Rev. Dr. Granger Westberg created Wholistic Health Centers staffed by a team including a physician, nurse, social worker, and pastoral counselor. The formal definition of parish nursing or faith community nursing is, "the specialized practice of professional nursing that focuses on the intentional care of the spirit as part of the process of promoting wholistic health and preventing or minimizing illness in a faith community" (American Nurses Association & Health Ministries Association [ANA & HMA], 2005, p. 1).


Parish nurses must have a current active registered nurse (RN) license. The basic preparation in spiritual care received by all nursing students is not considered adequate preparation for assuming the specialty role of a parish nurse. Additional training is available in several ways, which will be covered in the next issue of JCN. National certification in faith community nursing is not currently available but is in the development stage. Registered nurses with inactive licenses, licensed practical or vocational nurses (LPN/LVN), allied health personnel, and others who work with congregations to promote and provide wholistic health are titled "health advocates" or "health ministers." Only RNs with active licensure may use the title of "parish nurse" or "faith community nurse."


Parish nurses practice in a faith community setting as members of the ministry staff. A community of faith includes people of all ages with various needs. Roles may include those of health advisor, health educator, health advocate, and referral agent. A community of faith includes individuals, families, small and large groups, and the clergy. The form of care provided varies with the assessed needs and the beliefs and practices of the faith community. Each parish nurse ministry is customized to fit the congregational needs, the skills of the nurse, and the collaboration of other team members and volunteers.


American Nurses Association & Health Ministries Association. (2005). Faith community nursing: Scope and standards of practice. Silver Springs, MD: Nurses [Context Link]



What's in a name?

In 1998, the original Scope and Standards of Parish Nursing Practice stated that parish nurse was the "most common title given to the registered professional nurse who serves as a member of the ministry staff of a faith community" (ANA & HMA, 2005, p. 50). Parish nurse is a Christian title that sometimes proved unacceptable because other faith traditions established health ministry programs lead by RNs. In 2005, when the Scope and Standards were rewritten, the title became faith community nurse "to have one name inclusive of all faith traditions and to accurately label the location and focus of practice" (ANA & HMA, 2005, p. 2).


According to the standards, "faith community nurse" is the generic name for RNs working in a faith community setting. Other titles used are "parish nurse," "crescent nurse," "congregational nurse," "health ministry nurse," to name a few. Many Christian denominations continue to use the title "parish nurse" first developed by Westberg.


Discussion Forum

Quarterly Question: If you are a parish nurse, what title is used to identity your ministry position? If you are not a parish nurse, what would assist you in discovering the specialty practice of parish nursing and how it relates hospital, home health, and other branches of nursing? Send email responses to

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The International Parish Nurse Resource Center ( contains basic information and educational opportunities.


Canadian Association for Parish Nurse Ministry (


Australia Faith Community Nurses Association (


The Health Ministries Association is celebrating its 20th anniversary. For more information about this organization and regional celebration conferences, go to or call 800-280-9919.