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Health Ministry FAQs

Below is a list of frequently asked questions. You may click on the category to find the answers to the questions in that section.

Health Ministry

What is health ministry?
Health ministry combines the therapeutic qualities of church, community and faith to strengthen the healing task. There are many health ministry models to choose from. It is important that the ministry be customized to address the specific needs of the congregation and community served. Health ministries may be coordinated by a parish/faith community nurse or by a health advocate.

How does clergy and a congregation benefit from having a parish/faith community nurse?
Parish/faith community nurses are registered nurses who blend their medical expertise with additional training in the intentional care of the spirit. They are available to members of a congregation and community, and possess the time and knowledge to assist individuals, families and groups learn how to have a healthier wholistic1 lifestyle. They also work with those who are in crisis acting as advocates to navigate the complex health care system. Clergy can benefit from a working relationship with a medical professional who understands the demands of spiritual care and acts as an advocate for a healthy work environment.

What is the difference between a church having a health ministry or a clinic?
Health ministry focuses on wellness including healthy lifestyle education and prevention. Health ministry is provided by parish/faith community nurses or health advocates. Church clinics provide medical patient care and are directed by a physician or nurse practioner. Services are provided by medical professionals who may or may not have advanced training in spiritual care.

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How do I find other parish/faith community nurses and health ministries in my annual conference?
Check with your conference leadership.

How do clergy and parish/faith community nurses work together?
Clergy and parish/faith community nurses are both members of the church staff who bring their professional expertise to health ministry in the church and community. They do not replace or overshadow each other as both are needed to provide wholistic1 care.

Do all churches practice health ministry in the same way?
No, health ministry is customized to fit the needs and interests of the congregation and community served.

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Providing Health Ministry

What is the difference between a parish/faith community nurse and a health advocate?
A parish/faith community nurse is a registered nurse with specialized training. Parish/faith community nurses provide intentional care of the spirit along with expert nursing knowledge to promote wholistic1 health and prevent or minimize illness. Parish/faith community nurses work with individuals, groups, congregations and communities. They are not expected to provide patient care in the church or in the home. They coordinate and supplement existing services to provide a wholistic1 dimension of health and caring.

Health advocates are people with professional training in a health-related field or an interest in health and healing who use their gifts and talents to serve the needs of the congregation and community. Health advocates work closely with parish/faith community nurses to provide health ministry to congregations. When a congregation does not have a parish/faith community nurse, health advocates provide services at their level of expertise.

How many people are needed to provide a health ministry?
The number of people required is directly related to the programs and services being provided. There is no minimum or maximum number.

What if there are no nurses in my congregation?
Health advocates (non-registered nurses) can also provide health ministry for congregations. Often, there is a parish/faith community nurse coordinator at the conference level or available through a local network to assist.

What are the requirements to be a parish/faith community nurse in a United Methodist Church?
A parish/faith community nurse must be a registered nurse and maintain an active license in his/her state of practice, as well as follow the Scope and Standards of Faith Community Nursing Practice. It is also strongly recommended that a Foundations of Faith Community Nursing or comparable course be taken.

What does a parish/faith community nurse do?
Health ministry is customized to meet the needs of the congregation and community as well as the gifts and talents of those who provide the care. Clergy health support is also a part of health ministry. The roles of a parish/faith community nurse or health advocate may be described in broad categories, but are not limited to activities such as:

  • Clergy, congregational and community support through home and hospital visitation, one-to-one or family care in times of crisis or loss, supervision of shelters or grief support services following a disaster or community-wide crisis. Parish/faith community nurses and health advocates blend their expertise of medical science with their knowledge of faith practices to provide intentional care of the spirit that focuses on God as the Great Physician and healer. Parish/faith community nurses not only work with clergy and church staff to improve the health of the church leaders, but they also partner with clergy and church staff to improve the health of the congregation and community. For example: stress management, grief and loss support or exploring the relationship between faith and health.
  • Healthy lifestyle education through Bible study, small groups, newsletter articles and bulletin inserts. Parish/faith community nurses and health advocates are available and accessible to individuals, families and groups to educte and explain the many facets of wholistic1 health including but not limited to physical, mental, spiritual, social, financial and environmental health. For example: heart-healthy cooking classes, home safety checks, new parent classes, care for aging parents or emergency preparedness.
  • Resources and referral by providing current, unbiased information about locally-accessable services such as home health, hospice, meals-on-wheels, and Medicare. Under the guidance of professionals who understand the language and process of choosing and obtaining services, those in need of care are assisted in making appropriate health-related decisions. Parish/faith community nurses work in partnership with other congregations, organizations and community groups to promote fellowship and increase community health.
  • Coordinator of volunteers. Many hands are needed to care for congregations and communities. Parish/faith community nurses organize, teach and guide others who desire to share their expertise and talents to improve the wholistic1 health of others through programs, services, and support groups. For example: community health fairs, Sunday morning blood pressure screenings or church-sponsored exercise and support groups.

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Is health ministry just for United Methodists?
Health ministry and parish/faith community nursing exists in most Christian denominations as well as other major religions, such as Judism and Muslim. All major religions worldwide have a health and healing aspect in their belief systems. There are parish/faith community nurses in all 50 states as well as Australia, Bahamas, Canada, England, Ghana, Kenya, South Korea, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Swaziland, Ukraine, Wales, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Is clergy health part of health ministry?
Clergy health is an important part of health ministry. Not only do parish/faith community nurses assist congregations in developing healthy lifestyles, but they also work with the clergy and church staff.

Can non-church members visit the parish/faith community nurse?
Most parish/faith community nurse ministries serve as a community outreach tool for the church. As such non-members from the community are encouraged to use the services and programs they provide.

What if I only want to have a food pantry?
Health ministry is customized to fit the unique needs and interests of the congregation and community, as well as the gifts and talents of the server.

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Starting or Expanding Health Ministry

How do I tell my pastor or church council about health ministry?
Download or request a copy of the "Introduction to Health Ministry for United Methodist Clergy and Congregations" document available on the UMC Health Ministry Network website. The UMC Health Ministry advisor is also available to assist you in developing and introducing your health ministry ideas. Please make your request by e-mailing [email protected].

How do I train to become a parish/faith community nurse or health advocate?
Training programs are offered across the United States, and most follow the Foundations of Faith Community Nursing curriculum developed by the International Parish Nurse Resource Center (IPNRC). Visit for a list of courses by state and check with nursing schools and networks in your area.

How do we know what to do for our church?
Refer to the UMC Health Ministry Network Toolkit for a congregational assessment and guidelines document.

I have just been hired as a parish/faith community nurse or have just started a health ministry or have been asked by my pastor to start a health ministry; where do I find information and support from other parish/faith community nurses?
Visit the UMC Health Ministry Network website and join the UMC Health Ministry Network.

Is the UMC Health Ministry advisor available to help me plan health ministry for my congregation?
The resources of UMCOR Health, Wespath and the UMC Health Ministry Network, including the services of the UMC Health Ministry advisor are all available to you. Please make your request by e-mailing [email protected].

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Legal and Financial Questions

Is health ministry covered under the church's insurance?
Yes, just as any other ministry or program of the church. Check with your church's insurance carrier.

Do I have to carry malpractice insurance to work in health ministry?
It is strongly recommended, but not required that each registered nurse carry malpractice insurance. Many congregations reimburse this expense for both paid and unpaid nurses.

Are parish/faith community nurses church staff even if they are unpaid volunteers?
Yes, paid and unpaid nurses are considered church staff and held to the same Scope and Standards of Practice as well as the Nurse Practice Act for their state.

What if our church cannot afford to hire a parish/faith community nurse?
A parish/faith community nurse health ministry can operate in several different ways. For example:

  • One church providing the salary for their own full- or part-time nurse or group of nurses
  • Several churches supporting the salary of the nurse
  • A paid nurse coordinating a group of unpaid (volunteer) nurses
  • An unpaid (volunteer) nurse or group of nurses serving one or several churches
  • A nurse related to a hospital or clinic who serves a church or churches

There are also many fundraising options available to support the salary of a parish/faith community nurse.

Are there scholarships available to attend the parish/faith community nurse and health advocate course?
Yes, there are many options to fund tuition. Start with your church council, district and annual conference. At times, scholarships are also available from various organizations such as UMCOR. Watch for announcements through the UMC Health Ministry Network.

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1 Wholistic
The "w" is used with the word "wholistic" when speaking of health ministry and parish/faith community nursing. The Rev. Dr. Granger Westberg first advocated the use of the term "wholistic" rather than "holistic", to more closely relate the term to wholeness and to avoid confusion with the term "holistic" that connotes non-religious alternative health care practices.

Let Us Know

Our website, programs and offerings are constantly evolving. Let us know what you think is working, what isn't and what new content you would like to see on the site at [email protected]. Thank you for your feedback and continued support of denomination-wide clergy and lay worker health.