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Lifelines: Parishioners

Just east of downtown Midland, Mich., Memorial Presbyterian Church and its 80,000-square-foot brick-and-steeple building provide a safe haven for all. 

Through community outreach and acting as a medical liaison between church members and the medical field, faith community nurse Kellie Froelicher, BSN ’87, has been delivering on the church’s mission every day for the past seven years. 

“The caring personality of a nurse is similar to the mission of the church,” she added. “It’s a way to help people.”  

According to Westburg Institute, faith community nursing, otherwise known as parish nursing, was established in 1984 with the goal of strengthening the relationship between religious and medical communities. 

Froelicher considers herself a health care facilitator for church and community members, noting that her patients feel comfortable bringing their health concerns to her.  

“When you tell them you’re a nurse from a church, the patients seem to feel less threatened,” she said. 

The isolation caused by the pandemic has changed Froelicher’s day-to-day substantially. Instead of visiting her patients at the hospital, she writes them letters and calls them frequently to provide words of encouragement and time for prayer. 

Forming virtual wellness groups and providing online health education for church members has been another focus. Recently, she hosted a webinar for church members to stress the importance of vaccination.   

Associate pastor Rev. Dr. Wallace Mayton, III has served at Memorial Presbyterian Church for over 30 years and is responsible for bringing the faith community nurse role to the church. 

“I became aware of congregations around the country hiring faith community nurses as part of their staff,” he continued, “We brought together members of the congregation along with those from the medical field in our community to determine our needs.” 

The faith community nurse position that was created at Memorial Presbyterian Church is unique to itself in that regard. By parlaying medical and safety resources from the Midland community, Froelicher is a liaison between church members and her community. 

“The position has expanded beyond our original vision to provide medical resources for our members, into a community outreach.” Mayton III said. “Caring for others and their health needs is something to which we’re all called.”  

The relationship between community and church is symbiotic in many respects. Founded in 1867 with over 800 members and a well-funded endowment, Froelicher has partnered with many non-profits in the area to serve their needs. 

“My role is very involved in public health,” she said, “I’m what closes the circuit between medical field and patients.” 

Froelicher credits the Michigan State University College of Nursing with opening her eyes to the spiritual side of nursing and how therapeutic touch can positively affect patients. 

For example, Herbert Benson, MD, a cardiologist at Harvard School of Medicine, found through his research in the 1960s that 10 to 20 minutes of meditation twice a day leads to decreased metabolism, decreased heart rate, decreased respiratory rate, and slower brain waves. The research was used to treat illnesses such as chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, and more. 

Faith community nursing is accredited by the American Nursing Association, which offers a certification program for registered nurses who wish to complete it. 

“I’m a very science-based person,” she said, “and the research has shown that spirituality plays an important role in one’s health and recovery.”