August ourLife: Faith Community Nurses focus on physical, emotional, spiritual

by Sue Webber
Contributing Writer

Alice Sundeen has volunteered as a Faith Community Nurse since 2005, at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Lakeville. She is one of three women who fill that role at the 800-member congregation.

“I just love it,” Sundeen said. “We say the Faith Community Nurse (FCN) focuses on holistic and spiritual care. We help people maintain or regain health. We’re there for love, care and support.”

A Faith Community Nurse is a currently licensed registered nurse who facilitates the health of a faith community with a holistic approach, focusing on the physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions of church members who visit with them.

The FCN works with the pastoral staff and congregation to respond to their particular needs. Their services also are open to the community.

Trinity Evangelical Free Church Faith Community Nurses are, from left: Mary Gardeen, Joanne Hall and Alice Sundeen. (Photo by Tad Johnson, Sun ThisWeek)
Trinity Evangelical Free Church Faith Community Nurses are, from left: Mary Gardeen, Joanne Hall and Alice Sundeen. (Photo by Tad Johnson, Sun ThisWeek)

The schedule and hours vary, according to the needs, Sundeen said. A large part of the job, she said “is just being there for people who need someone to listen. We pray with them over the phone and at church, we make nursing home visits and visits to people at home. I go with people to doctor’s appointments, go to their homes to review discharge instructions and encourage them to follow their doctor’s orders.

“We let people know we love them and care about them. People are lonely, and I have the time to spend.”

The nurses provide rides for people who have medical appointments, calling them to remind them ahead of time and then checking back with them following the appointment. “We offer to pray with them,” Sundeen said.

At Trinity, the three nurses also conduct workshops, presenting information on Medicare, funeral planning and health care directives; they conduct a chronic illness support group; and they and host blood drives. Sundeen conducted an Alzheimer’s caregivers support group in her home for a year, for example. The nurses also arrange for staff training in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and AED (automated external defibrillator) every two years.

“There are lots of needs,” Sundeen said. “We find people who have slipped through the cracks. We are careful to maintain confidentiality.”

The nurses at Trinity also work with the church’s prayer shawl ministry. “We have the privilege of giving out shawls to people who have lost their spouse or are dealing with a difficult illness,” Sundeen said.

The Faith Community Nurses meet monthly with the broader networks of faith nurses in the Twin Cities area to attend workshops, share resources and encourage and pray for each other.

Sundeen, a widow who has lived in Lakeville for 45 years, grew up in northern Minnesota. She retired three years ago after a lifetime as a registered nurse at a variety of locations in the Twin Cities. She is involved with many church activities, plus Bible study, and she is a gardener. She has two sons and two grandchildren in Tennessee.

“I have a wonderful life,” Sundeen said. “I’m not bored at all. I am blessed.”

Joanne Hall

Joanne Hall of Prior Lake, also a Faith Community Nurse at Trinity, retired 18 months ago from her job as an analyst with a health insurance carrier.

“I went through the faith community course 10 years ago, and I’ve worked with Alice as I am able to,” she said. “We work as often as we’re needed; we have no set schedule. Our experience and abilities really define what we do best. We focus on the physical, but we also bring in the spiritual aspect. It’s a whole person ministry.”

Their work ranges from families with new babies to people in hospice care, Hall said.

Raised in southeast Minnesota, Hall received her nursing degree at Gustavus Adolphus College. Prior to retirement, her nursing career took her to hospitals in Rochester and St. Paul. “I touched a lot of parts of nursing,” Hall said.

She has two grown children and two grandsons.

Mary Gardeen

This is the second church where Mary Gardeen has used her nursing skills. She brought 10 years of experience at the 200-member First Covenant Church in downtown Minneapolis to her work at Trinity Church in Lakeville.

She and her husband, a Twin Cities health care administrator, also have served as medical missionaries in Ecuador for 22 years. “We’ve always felt called to preach and share the gospel,” Gardeen said.

After returning home from Ecuador in 2000, Gardeen took a 40-hour class on faith community nursing. “I felt it was a great fit,” she said. “Another nurse and I started the program [at the downtown church].”

Gardeen, a resident of Burnsville for 16 years, grew up in Robbinsdale and received her nursing degree from Gustavus Adolphus College.

She began volunteering at Trinity in 2012. “We do a nice variety of things,” she said. “There are a variety of ages and many opportunities for service. We try to provide caring with some knowledge. We take the journey with people and help them to make choices.”

She and her husband have four grown sons and nine grandchildren. The Gardeens are planning to return to service in Ecuador early in 2017, Gardeen said.

About Faith Community Nurses

Once called parish nurses, the volunteers have worked in metro area churches since about 1980, but weren’t organized until 2004, when the Faith Community Nurse Network (FCNN) was formed.

“A faith community nurse is an experienced, actively licensed registered nurse (RN) who has completed specialized professional nursing education focused on intentional care of the spirit in the faith community setting,” according to the organization’s website. “She is knowledgeable in two areas – professional nursing and spiritual care.”

The interfaith service organization aims to “champion faith community nursing through professional education, communications and networking, program funding, research, and leadership opportunities,” the website said.

The network now provides programs and services to more than 350 Faith Community Nurses in an estimated 235 congregations of all faiths.


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