Verna B. CARSON and Harold G. KOENIG: Parish Nursing: Stories of Service and Care. Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press. 2002. Pp 231 $16.95 pb. ISBN 1-890151-94-7.
Reviewed by Thomas P. IMSE, Holy Cross College, Worcester, MA 01610

If you are thinking of becoming a parish nurse or thinking of established a parish nurse in your parish or advising students who are seeking a career focus, this book will be of interest to you. The sub-title tells it well: Stories of Service and Care.

This is an absorbing assembly of recollections of established parish nurses. It begins with a) their decision to move from conventional hospital nursing into parish nursing, moves to b) their first experiences in that role, then to c) their reflections on their experiences with the church, and then to d) their experiences as they relate to the wider community beyond the parish. A subsequent chapter presents various models of parish nursing, continuing to use the words and experiences of nurses in the different styles. The final chapter offers a look to the future and the authors' hopes for this very young and fluid specialty.

The early chapters read almost like a religious tract as the authors and the nurses tell their stories of becoming parish nurses as testimony of their "call to ministry." The authors and the nurses who are telling their story testify to their "call." Apparently no one has asked whether becoming a nurse was itself a response to God's "call." But do not let such a question distract you from reading this book. The stories are important and certainly apply to all denominations.

The descriptions of the activity of parish nurses are full of ministry that is religious but include little of action that is distinctly nursing; i.e., specifically calling on the expertise of nurses in serving the unwell. This leaves the reader with a question. Does the concept join faith and medicine in healing as well as faith and medicine in dying? Does it separate or keep separate medicine and faith or does it bring them together? Although there is repeated reference to being "wholistic", (that is, concerned with body, mind and spirit), the emphasis seems to be only on ministry. It does not refer to the combination of physical and spiritual, which is so significant in the palliative care concept of nursing for the terminally ill. Perhaps this is only the early stage of parish nursing experience. Further study may connect the two.

These are rather new and important concepts in the field of nursing and in parish structure and function. As with any new idea there will be many changes with time and experience.

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