August 1999

Grant Results


From 1997 to 1998, staff from St. Mary's Manassas, Alabama Redevelopment Team (SMART) helped establish a network of parish nurse programs in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Memphis, Tenn.

Parish nurses are volunteer members of faith communities who receive special training in assessing the health needs of their congregants and providing them with education and counseling to improve their health status. They are not necessarily registered nurses; many are lay leaders trained in basic nursing skills.

SMART is the community redevelopment agency for the Winchester Park neighborhood, the second poorest neighborhood of Memphis.

Key Results

  • In all, 15 churches across Memphis established a parish nurse program, including eight predominately African-American congregations serving the target neighborhood.
  • The program recruited area nursing schools, the American Heart Association, and other community health agencies to provide blood pressure screenings, run health fairs, and distribute health information.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project through a grant of $10,259.

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Enhancing the capacity of local houses of worship to address the health needs and risks experienced by their congregations has become a salient aspect of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) work, particularly through its national program, Faith in Action®, which supports the establishment of interfaith volunteer caregiver projects for people of all ages with chronic health conditions in more than 2,000 communities around the country.

Identifying registered nurses or lay leaders who are members of faith groups — and preparing them to become health educators and counselors for their congregation members — has been recognized as a low-cost and potentially effective church-based health intervention. St. Mary's Manassas, Alabama Redevelopment Team (SMART), is the community redevelopment agency for the Winchester Park neighborhood, the second poorest neighborhood of Memphis, Tenn. Most residents of the SMART neighborhood have limited access to preventive medicine and health screening.

SMART was jointly organized by members of St. Mary's Cathedral (Episcopal), a predominately white congregation, and residents of the predominately African-American neighborhood surrounding it. St. Mary's parishioners and local community residents comprise SMART's board of directors, and they have been working since 1993 on projects for children and the elderly. The parish nurse project represented a new initiative for them.

The goal of the project was to create a parish nurse program in area churches. Parish nurses would assist congregation members in making health decisions that promote self-sufficiency in wellness and health awareness. Parish nursing is based on holistic principles — ministering to the physical, spiritual, and psychological needs of people, and encouraging health and wellness for people in the context of their faith community. It seeks to involve lay people in promoting health care among members of their church congregations.

The role of parish nurses differs from that of other nurses in that it does not include invasive nursing procedures or other medical functions. Parish nurses:

  • Identify health and wellness needs.
  • Recommend dietary, exercise, and other health care initiatives to individuals.
  • Address prenatal, neonatal, and family planning health issues.
  • Make referrals to appropriate agencies.
  • Routinely administer blood pressure and other screening tests.
  • Give nutrition counseling.
  • Refer specific problems to appropriate agencies.
  • Act as a resource for specific health concerns.
  • Recommend specific health maintenance activities such as exercise programs, mammograms, immunizations, prenatal care.
  • Maintain health records and provide follow-up.
  • Coordinate educational activities such as health fairs, invited speakers, and support groups.
  • Distribute health literature.

RWJF staff concluded that the project was a low-cost opportunity to acquire first-hand experience with the parish nurse concept and its potential for improving the health of minority families living in poverty. The nurse leader of the project, Deborah Hooser, M.S.N., was charged with helping the 10 African-American churches in the area identify a volunteer registered nurse or a lay leader from each congregation. Ms. Hooser, a certified parish nurse, would then provide periodic training and supervision to help them establish parish nurse programs in their congregations.

In addition to paying the consultant/trainer's fee, the grant supported the purchase of office supplies and support, as well as blood pressure kits, stethoscopes, and other medical equipment distributed to participating churches. In-kind support for the project was also provided by the American Heart Association, the Church Health Center, the University of Memphis, the Baptist College of Health Sciences, Grace - St. Luke's Episcopal Church, and several area home health agencies.

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  • In all, 15 churches across Memphis established a parish nurse program, including 8 predominately African-American congregations serving the target neighborhood. In four churches, the project director continued to administer the program when no parish nurse was recruited.
  • The program has recruited area nursing schools, Catholic Charities, the American Heart Association, the Church Health Center, and area home health agencies to provide blood pressure screenings, set up health fairs, and distribute health information. Of the churches that were approached and did not sign up, all were appreciative of the information and asked to be contacted again later.
  • Nursing schools in the area sent students to collaborate on the project. Their participation will continue on a volunteer basis, or with funding from future grants. This collaboration may result in further opportunities for nursing students.


An article in the Memphis daily newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, featured the program and its coordinator in June 1996. It was instrumental in attracting additional churches and local health agency partners to join the program, according to the project director. Two citywide seminars were given to educate health care providers as well as the lay public on parish nurse programs. A day-long symposium was given in Wilmington, NC, in January 1998. An interview was taped and broadcast on local access radio and television programs (see the Bibliography).

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Continued seminars are planned on a twice-yearly basis. A congregational nursing symposium is scheduled for summer 1999, under the auspices of Baptist College of Health Sciences. The grantee will continue to work with existing parish nurse programs and replicate the project in other churches in the SMART community. Grants from other sources are being investigated for the purpose of broadening SMART's programs beyond health promotion.

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Parish Nurse Programs for African-American Churches in Inner-City Memphis


St. Mary's Manassas, Alabama Redevelopment Team Inc. (Memphis,  TN)

  • Amount: $ 10,259
    Dates: May 1997 to August 1998
    ID#:  031258


Clarence Hampton
Deborah Hooser, M.S.N.
(901) 525-5766

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(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Brochures and Fact Sheets

"Parish Nursing" recruitment brochure distributed to participating congregations, Memphis, Tenn.: SMART, Inc., 1997.

Print Coverage

"Nurse Tithes Time to Parish Health," The Commercial Appeal, Section C, page 1, June 26, 1997.

Interview with Jackie Lewis, parish nurse, representing SMART, by Web TV, Faith of Light Community Church.

"Notes From our Nurse" column in SMART quarterly newsletter.

Article on SMART and RWJF grant, Grace-St. Luke's Quarterly Newsletter, September 1997.

Sponsored Conferences

"Introduction to Parish Nursing." Three evening classes, May 1997. Twenty-two participants, including registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, physicians, ministers, and lay persons. Repeated in fall 1998 with 18 participants, held in conjunction with Catholic Dioceses and the Partnership for Women's and Children's Health.

Deborah Hooser, speaker for ECW (Episcopal Church Women), Memphis, Tenn., fall 1997.

Deborah Hooser, "Parish Nursing," one-day symposium, January 1998, St. Andrews on the Sound, Wilmington, N.C.

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Report prepared by: Paul Mantell
Reviewed by: Patricia Patrizi
Reviewed by: Richard Camer
Program Officer: Terrance Keenan