Health Ministry's Personal Touch: Dee Wiseman's Story
The strength of Dee Wiseman’s health ministry is in its small moments—it is personal, tending toward one-on-one interaction that touches people when they need healing the most.
Dee is a tremendous presence at All Saints Episcopal Church in Appleton, WI. A retired RN looking to share her caring nature, Dee decided to explore parish nursing after seeing an article advertising an upcoming meeting. “After talking to a parish nurse, I realized that this was an opportunity to use my RN experience, something I would enjoy doing,” said Dee.
She secured a $500 grant from Wisconsin’s Women’s Health Foundation and signed up for a parish nurse course. Dee ended up with more than a certification—she became friends with eight other women pursuing training for their respective congregations, all different denominations.
Health Ministry First Steps and Challenges Along the Way
Once certified, Dee became an official parish nurse. “Now what do I do?” she wondered.
She started with a bulletin board, a caring heart and gumption. Her first thought was to establish a committee to help but the congregation was reluctant even when its priest asked for participation.
Dee’s spirit was not daunted and ideas kept flowing. Efforts to educate seemed appropriate, including:
- A file of life: a way to record medications, so that friends and family could relay this information easily in emergencies.
- Crisis protocol: for example, what to do while waiting for an EMT to arrive?
- DNR: what to consider when declaring power of attorney and end of life wishes?
Dee loves hearing stories of how someone was helped by these efforts.
Dee heard about ‘prayer shawls’ from a fellow parish nurse; this has become a very successful project, well received in the parish. Dee and three volunteers make the prayer shawls from yarn purchased and also donated by parish members; they have produced more than 1,000 shawls since 2004. And as fast as they are created, they are blessed by Father Patrick and put out every Sunday, free for parish members and loved ones. “They seem to disappear soon after they are laid out for the service!” Dee said.
Responding to the Call of Ministry
Dee takes initiative. “When someone is sick, I go,” said Dee. She averages 24 visits and drives more than 200 miles each month to visit those not able to make it to church for whatever reason. Dee also actively visits the sick and people in need from the parish, attends funerals and provides support to her parish and others in the community.
She connects people and volunteering evolves from relationships. One parishioner owes a friendship to volunteering: offering to drive a woman to a nearby nursing home to visit her husband turned into a bright spot for him. The woman reminded him of his grandmother, so he decided to spend more time with her. Now he drives her to other appointments and occasionally treats her to a nice dinner out.
One of Dee’s continuing programs is providing blood pressure checks once a month to the parishioners to help them monitor their health.
Dee’s positive spirit helps keep momentum, even though it may not fit her original vision of the ministry. She anchors numerous activities, like a monthly blood pressure check program and a walking tour of Wisconsin, a fun way to encourage physical activity based on the number of miles people walked weekly. Dee offers samples, coupons and even pins to remind the congregation about organ donation.
She receives a great response at nursing homes she frequents; Dee and her ideas are quite popular. At one facility’s wine and cheese party, Dee noticed that many residents are big sports fans. She collected pom-poms and giveaways for a Green Bay Packers party, with mugs and branded popcorn boxes donated from the Packers organization. The residents were overjoyed.
Since becoming certified, Dee’s parish nurse friends have developed ministries with different areas of focus. So it’s productive when they meet up each month to share ideas. Sometimes they join up for outreach at facilities like a new “memory café,” a stress-free environment for Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers.
And again, the connections bring new opportunities to learn and inspire. Dee has helped another congregation develop a health ministry, occasionally visits and advises. “If there is a need, I do it,” she said. “The best I can do is try.”
Inevitably, there are challenges in building a health ministry. Dee experienced:
Importance of Clergy Support: Many of her ideas took time to see results, with little initial participation from the congregation. But many times when she brought in another source, things clicked. Sometimes third party validation makes the difference. Now if Dee comes up against a block, Father Patrick backs up the idea with positive results.
Unexpected results: A lack of response could be disinterest, but it could require time to process and create change. Despite your best efforts, it may take an illness, accident or incident to make your message hit home. But something productive may be happening during the silence; God may be preparing others. Dee keeps moving forward, inviting new opportunities to serve, enriching her ministry.
You may change someone’s life and never know. You may capture broad interest by connecting ideas to newsworthy topics, like providing DNR education while the Terry Schiavo case was in the news. But when your ideas are personally moving and relevant, they will always affect people in a powerful way. Keep shining your light, God may be using you in ways you don’t yet realize!
Terra Hoskins contributes to the NEHM and NEAC blog on a freelance basis. As principal of Hoskins Interactive, an inbound marketing consultancy, she helps organizations improve the quality of website traffic needed to expand business. Follow Terra on her blog and on Twitter: @terrahoskins.