Having a Parish Nurse based at our church has made a big difference

Rachel Sutton is a Parish Nurse at St Andrews, St Helens. She tells us about what her work as a parish nurse involves and how it fulfils her calling from God to live out her faith in action.

Parish Nurses are registered nurses commissioned by churches to provide the local community of all ages and backgrounds, of any faith and none with a variety of holistic healthcare initiatives.

We asked Rachel what her role as Parish Nurse at St Andrews, St Helens involves:

“Part of my role is to provide outreach support to Asylum Seekers and Refugees in St Helens with spiritual care, health advice, help to access NHS services, psychological and emotional support. I also provide health advice and support to the church congregations and the wider community.

On Wednesday’s since June 2016, there has been a Welcome Drop In established to help Asylum Seekers and Refugees who have started to settle in the area as part of national dispersal programmes. The Welcome Café is as an ecumenical, multi-agency approach to support and teaching English with established organisations such as the Red Cross and Merseyside Refugee and Asylum Seeker Ante and Post Natal Group (MRANG) attending. I have been supporting these sessions by ensuring individuals and families can access their NHS services, for example helping to organise phone translators and explaining how to access advice, explain and support them with their health needs and wellbeing. 

Following the establishment of the Wednesday sessions, there was a need identified to run other sessions and groups to allow the new arrivals to connect and integrate with the wider community. How would we as a church community help to ‘Welcome the Stranger?’ Our response was to set up the One World Community Café at St Andrews Church on a Monday. This is run entirely by volunteers either connected to the church or from the local community.

Day to day there are parallels with my NHS work as an Advanced Nurse Practitioner, but as Parish Nurse, I’m ‘on call’ quite a bit over phone and text. Mental health is a huge issue; I am there to listen and help people engage with the health care services provided by our NHS. So much of the NHS is self-referral so I can help and teach people how to access the support available. I also support carers and people suffering from dementia by signposting care and offering spiritual healthcare. ”

How much of a difference does Rachel believe that parish nursing and the community cafes are making to the local community?

“As most of our Asylum Seekers and Refugees are from the Middle East, they have lost their old community so the work we are doing is helping them to engage in their new community. There is a mutual respect between our faiths which has helped to build links. The reaction from the local community has been incredible with support for my role. At St Andrews on a Monday, there are volunteers from different churches and faiths. There is one 86 year old gentleman who is even teaching himself Arabic! As elders are respected in Eastern culture this gesture has meant a great deal to the families that come. “

We asked how God is present in the work Rachel does:

“I believe I am living out my faith showing God’s love. With parish nursing, you are caring for the whole person – mind, body and spirit so it differs from my role within the NHS where my primary concern is the physical and mental health of a person. I abide by the NMC code of conduct in a limited timed appointment. I can offer to give spiritual healthcare (praying with or for someone, for example) but I need to gain consent first by asking the person if they would like me to do so. I offer spiritual care to all people of all faiths and none. People of other faiths – Sikh, Muslim, Zoroastrians, often ask me to pray with them as a Christian. They pray to their God and I to mine, linked by our shared spirituality.

God puts me in places where I’m meant to be. I lived in Denmark for a while before I returned to St Helens to be a Parish Nurse and so I have had that prior insight of what it is to be a stranger in a country where I didn’t speak the language initially and know personally how lonely that can be. It was for a reason that I was meant to come here to St Helens to be involved in helping these people settle in an unfamiliar culture. I am there to love them and to give hope if needed and show them they are valued.”

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Revd Dr Chris Daniel-McKeigue, St Helens Town Centre Team Vicar said:

“In a short time having a Parish Nurse based at our church has made a big difference. Rach is available to a number of our groups to give advice about health issues. She is a great asset, as vicar, I have been able to make referrals to her.  Although she needs to be sensitive and careful about how she shares her faith in this role - I can tell you that how she lives out her faith has had a dramatic impact on people.  God is really working through her professional skills. I would say that our church has increasingly become a place of welcome and acceptance and Rach has had a significant part to play in the development of our church.”