For the past 11 years Joan Payne, a nurse practitioner and member of the Westvale Seventh-day Adventist Church in Syracuse, New York, has coordinated Nurses’ Sabbath, typically held on the first Saturday of May. The timing for the event, which celebrates nurses in the congregation and the local community, is intentional. National Nurses Week in the United States is held May 6 through May 12, Florence Nightingale's birthday.
Almost 400 people attended this year’s special event on April 29, which many heard about through friends and family. “Each year we’ve expanded,” says Payne. This year two guest speakers delivered messages on Sabbath, followed by a fellowship dinner and a panel-type session in the afternoon for pastors, nurses, and others interested in faith community nursing.
Angeline David, Health Ministries director for the North American Division, and Betsy Johnson, president of the Adventist Association of Faith Community Nursing and the faith community nurse employed by the Emmanuel Brinklow Seventh-day Adventist Church in Maryland, spoke to attendees during the church’s morning services. Both highlighted the importance of health ministry outreach at the local church and shared information on faith community nursing. Biblical examples of caring for the needs of others were given. David also shared material from Ellen G. White on the health mandates for the church.
Johnson believes that Adventists “need a rejuvenation on how health ministries can partner with the spiritual ministry of our churches.” She says, “This is our mandate and I believe we’ve lost sight of that over the years. An event like this is very refreshing. And empowering.”
David is excited to celebrate the nurses within the Adventist church and faith community as a whole. She says, “Nurses’ Sabbath is not only to honor the work that our nurses do within the church as members, but it’s also an outreach to the nurses in the community who attend this event. This gives us another opportunity to bridge with them, to show that the Seventh-day Adventist Church cares for them, and values their profession.”
For Payne, who has been a faith community nurse at Westvale for one year, Nurses’ Sabbath serves multiple purposes. “Nurses work hard,” says Payne. “They have to be jacks-of-all-trades these days and grounded in many areas. This program honors them for their commitment. And it’s a great witnessing opportunity — we get people to our church who otherwise wouldn’t come, but will come because it is a special Sabbath for nurses.”
Seong Cho, Westvale’s pastor agrees. “As Adventists, we have many professionals in the medical field; the next step is to consecrate them for the work they are doing. What a great way to minister to people — not just physically, but spiritually.”
Cho sees incredible potential for ministry through faith community nursing in his own church — through their soon-to-be-revamped community service center, which works with the local food bank one day a month to help feed 27 families. Says Cho, “It would be wonderful to have a faith community nurse there on that day to administer blood pressure checks and ask the people how they are doing health-wise. It will be a time when we’ll be connecting with the community face to face.”
“The Adventist Church cannot be exclusive. We are placed in the community to make connection with the community. To love them,” says Cho. “We are part of the life of the community; that means in every aspect in the community. Part of meeting those needs is to provide health advice and directions.”
Cho adds, “Adventists can no longer be the back seat driver when it comes to health messages in the world today. Other groups are taking the message and driving it home. What are Adventists doing? We need to get back into the driver’s seat and carry the health message to the world.”
David is aware of the NAD’s limitations. One of them is that “we aren’t on the ground in every community. That’s where our churches come in,” explains David. “They are the ones who can really impact the community. We value that partnership with our local churches, with our conferences, our unions. They’re the ones who can take resources and take the information and make it real, make it personal, and make it relevant to their community.”
And taking it to the community is the key, says Johnson. “Faith community nursing is the ability to take the spirituality of our church and inoculate that into the community while taking the resources from the community and bringing that into our faith community as a church,” she says. “It’s a dynamic partnership that will be able to help meet the needs of the church and well as the community.”
Interested in faith community nursing? Considering an outreach at your local church? Health Ministries and Southern Adventist University are partnering to host training for faith community nursing on July 23-27, 2017. Click here for more information.
—Pieter Damsteegt contributed to this article.