Nurses who work with N.C. Baptist congregations say church members are taking a greater interest in their health.
Linda Page, the faith and health ministry coordinator for the Greater Cleveland County area, said nurses help keep the issue before members of the congregations they serve. Page oversees about 20 health care professionals who serve churches as parish nurses, also called faith community nurses.
"I think we've had lives saved because they had parish nurses in place," she said.
The program in Cleveland County uses a volunteer model so nurses don't get paid for the ministry they do in their churches, Page said.
"It really is a calling," she said. "I feel they are God-called."
Karen Bridges, a licensed practical nurse, helped start a health ministry team about two years ago at her church, Double Springs Baptist in Shelby.
"I just felt the Lord leading me to do something for others," she said.
The church supported the effort and now the team has 15 members.
Page said faith community nurses make a difference in churches.
"We really emphasize the spiritual aspect of health and that we are whole persons," she said. "We look more at the body, mind and spirit instead of just the physical side of health."
Faith community nurses help church members "become advocates for themselves in the health arena," Page said. When necessary the nurse will step in and intervene, she said.
For example, when a faith community nurse notices that a church member's blood pressure is high, the nurse might call the member's doctor to let them know. If needed, the nurse might go with the church member to the doctor.
Page also helps churches set up health fairs, using local resources and a booklet provided by the Health Ministries Association, a national group of parish nurses.
Page serves on the health committee at her church, Boiling Springs Baptist. The group recently held a dinner that raised enough money to buy four automated external defibrillators (AED) for the church.
Bridges' team also worked to buy an AED for her church. She said the team started by providing transportation to a church member diagnosed with cancer.
Now the team provides meals, holds health fairs, hosts educational speakers on fifth Sunday nights, and puts health-related inserts in the bulletins once a quarter.
Members of the team also do blood pressure checks the first Sunday of each month before and after services. They've also conducted screenings to see if church members are likely to have strokes or other diseases.
The team also provided meals and prayer for a family in the community that was having a hard time after losing a loved one.
A walking challenge for church members recently ended.
Bridges said she thinks people in the church are becoming more aware of their health.
"Even after we just got finished with the walking challenge, I've noticed people walking," she said.