United Methodist Committee on Relief


Faith community nurses help individuals and congregations seek physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
Barbara Barden, RN, stands in front of the ministry center.
Judie Shahbazian

By Julia Kayser*

March 28, 2013—Barbara Barden has volunteered for the past five years as a parish nurse for Trinity United Methodist Church in Plant City, Florida. On behalf of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), we asked her some questions about what it’s like to be a faith community nurse.

Q: How did you become a faith community nurse?

A: I tell people that I’ve been a parish nurse all my life. When I was 17, I decided to be a nurse. It’s my calling. I spent 20 years working at the veteran’s association in Tampa. I was in charge of outpatient services, and I worked closely with the hospital’s chaplains to get help for my patients.

The spiritual part of health care isn’t always emphasized, but I think it’s increasingly seen as a part of the total picture. In my career, there was an intentional pairing of faith with other nursing skills. My minister recognized it and said to me, “I want you to be my parish nurse.” So five years ago, I retired from the hospital and started work as a faith community nurse in the Ministry Center.

Q: What is the Ministry Center, and what happens there?

A: Trinity United Methodist Church inherited the campus of a dying congregation in West Plant City, and we turned it into a Ministry Center. I like to call it “The Whole Person Center” because it addresses people’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

The center is home to a GED program and the Family Literacy Academy of Tampa Bay. I’m the school nurse and counselor for those programs. We partner with Hillsborough County and with the Barbara Bush Foundation to keep them running. We also have an adult education series called G.I.F.T., which stands for Get Into Fitness Today. And we’ve sponsored events called Festivals of Joy, with screenings for blood pressure, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

Q: What’s it like to be involved in so many different ministries?

A: I work two full days a week, but usually it ends up being more. I’m involved with the congregation’s prayer team, prayer blanket ministry, and food bank. I also support the pastor by helping to visit people in their homes and in the hospital. A faith community nurse is never really off duty. Even when I’m not at church or at the Ministry Center, people approach me with medical and spiritual issues. God leads me where He needs me to go.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of being a Faith Community Nurse?

A: I love working individually with the people that I meet and discovering the root causes of really hidden health problems. For example, a man came to the Ministry Center fearful that he was developing Alzheimer’s. His wife had died not long before. The health problems he began to experience, including an obsession with computer gambling, were caused not by Alzheimer’s but were rooted in his grief.

Q: What’s the hardest part of the job?

A: I joke that in 46 years of nursing, I don’t know if anyone has ever really followed my advice! My job is not to force people to do things but to let them know what’s available to them. There has to be an unconditional kind of love, especially when my patients don’t follow up with treatment. It’s hard! But I believe that every connection I make is part of God’s plan.

Q: How do you understand the relationship between physical and spiritual health?

A: I don’t think a person can be healthy unless they’re intentionally improving themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m not a theologian, but I try to provide spiritual support by sharing my life experience with my patients. For stress, I point people towards Philippians 4:4-9. When I’m helping someone through the recovery process, I often say, “I want to encourage you to have a daily conversation with God as part of your growth.” I just try to be open and let God work through me.

Learn more about parish nursing here, and support this valuable service with your gift to Congregational Health Ministry, Advance #3021045.

*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to

Learn more about parish nursing here, and support this valuable service with your gift to Congregational Health Ministry, Advance #3021045.