The year 2020 marks 200 years since Florence Nightingale was born and as such the World Health Organization has named this year the Year of the Nurse and Midwife.  In those 200 years, we have seen nursing change significantly, and yet we all know that, in some ways, it has not changed all that much. Nurses still take care of some of the most vulnerable and marginalized in our society today.

Without any doubt, our world is being challenged beyond measure. Our nursing colleagues are being tested in unprecedented ways because of the COVID-19 pandemic and we hear stories every day of nurses rising to the occasion. Around the globe, nurses are providing care for patients in a multitude of practice settings.  We have never been prouder to call ourselves Registered Nurses.

Parish Nursing is an important part of those front-line interventions. The list of work Parish Nurses are doing in this pandemic is endless: orchestrating shopping assistance teams, consulting for our opinions, providing neighborhood mail drops, spearheading education sessions, providing resource referrals, organizing babysitting co-ops, revising practice policies, documenting our actions, suggesting children’s activities to explain these uncertain times, coordinating prayer groups, suggesting resources for vocational counselling, making phone calls, organizing Zoom gatherings and even toilet paper drop offs!  Our work is essential.

One such intervention was the creation of a working group of Parish Nurses from across Canada who belong to the Canadian Association for Parish Nursing Ministry (CAPNM) – our National organization. (www.capnm.ca).  The purpose of this working group was to share information and ideas, spark new thoughts, and to work collectively to create safe practices for reopening our worship spaces.  We knew that we were going to be called upon to relaunch/reopen churches soon and our expertise in health care management strategies was going to be heavily utilized.

We began gathering after the Annual General Meeting for CAPNM was held on May 22, 2020.  The group met weekly for four weeks via videoconference; contact information was circulated, and new connections were formed.  We established a Dropbox in which documents from all over North America pertaining to relaunch / reopening of Faith communities were gathered and distributed.

This matter of reopening churches is extraordinarily complex. To best work through the multiple topics, the decision was made to break the conversation into manageable pieces for weekly discussion.  The topics included singing, entry and exit practices, cleaning and disinfecting, children’s church, physical distancing practices, the use of masks, etc.  Information was pulled from the Dropbox documents; it was collated onto one-page reference sheets which were then shared with the working group members. (It should be noted these one-page reference sheets sometimes contained conflicting information as resources were pulled from numerous guidance documents from around North America.).  The working group members were then free to take this information back to their own unique worship centres.  Of note, every worship community had to adhere to its own provincial health guidelines as the final word in all decisions.

The following is the story of one nurse’s church reopening. Janelda Cornfield is part of our CAPNM working group and is a Parish Nurse in Edmonton Alberta.  She and her church opened her service to the worshipers on Sunday June 7, 2020.

Parish Nursing:  A Team Perfectly Joined

On May 14, 2020, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, lifted the ban on in-person services for places of worship.  Our church community, Sunrise Community Church, had not met together physically at that time for over eight weeks.  When word was given by Dr. Hinshaw that worship services were able to be relaunched, Pastor Dennis Wiens, and the elders of our church looked to me, as parish nurse, to solicit my involvement and input about the relaunch.  It was time for action.  We chose to follow a two-fold approach: first, to develop a site-specific strategy and second, to ensure clear, concise communication with the congregants from our church community regarding the relaunch.

As I am “old-school”, I “printed” out the most recent Alberta Health Services (AHS) documents from Dr. Hinshaw pertaining to “Guidance for Places of Worship” and other related orders.  I carefully combed through the documents, underlining, highlighting, and making a “to-do” list as I read.  A potential site-specific protocol document was drafted, ensuring careful adherence to the protocols outlined in the provincial orders.  Once I was confident each concern in the orders had been addressed, I forwarded the strategy with the supporting document links to the pastor and the elder board for feedback.  After minimal discussion and minor changes, the strategy was approved.  Our wonderfully efficient administrative assistant spent hours printing, laminating, and posting signs at various entrances and throughout the church. We were ready for our first service!

Recognizing that communication in this matter was imperative, a potential email was drafted to be sent to the congregants.  Each congregant needed to know what was required of them before, at the time, and after attending the service.  This email addressed such things as the need for self-assessment before responding, the necessity of an RSVP, the expectations upon arrival, i.e., hand and respiratory hygiene, health assessment etc., and what the flow of people through the building would look like.  I sent this email draft to the pastor and elder board who again reviewed it, made minor changes and it was approved. The email was sent out. We were on our way!

On June 7, 2020, the morning of the first service, twenty-nine people attended.  I met congregants at the door where we completed a verbal health assessment. The door was left ajar, so no one had to touch the door.  This worked until the weather turned inclement, at which time I only, used the handicap button to access the door.

Once people were in the building; hand sanitizer was used by all.  Names were checked off an RSVP generated attendance list and then ushers took people to their assigned seats, which were pre-arranged prior to the service. People sat in family groups. There were no cohort family situations to deal with at this service.  Physical markings, utilizing masking tape on the floor and signage directed the flow of traffic.

The church decided to use only a single-stall washroom. It was thoroughly cleaned and disinfected ahead of time. Cleaning wipes were made available to users.  Congregants were discouraged from using the washroom if possible. Signage in the washroom instructed users on the cleansing practices to be completed following usage.

Singing during the worship service was subdued.  Our pastor and two members of his immediate family lead the singing during our service.  They accompanied themselves with guitar and piano and did not share microphones.  The congregation did not sing with them.

Mask use was addressed in the email sent to congregants prior to their arrival. Masks were not considered mandatory; therefore, some people wore them, others did not.

There were no medically fragile congregants at the initial service. This will no doubt become a situation which will need to be addressed in subsequent services. In these future services, we anticipate that these congregants will be segregated from the rest of the worshippers – indicated by signage and ushered into assigned seating.  They will be masked, and we will request mask use by all who interact with these people who are requiring this special level of care.

Prior to the service, the removal of all soft materials including Bibles and paper products was completed. The order of service, responsive readings and announcements were projected onto the front wall during the service.

There was no children’s church, Sunday School or childcare during our first service. The children stayed with their parents throughout the entire service.  We do not anticipate any change in this practice for the duration of the summer services.

As of the date of this writing, we have just held our third in-person service.  Minor adjustments continue to be made weekly, evaluating, learning, and adapting as we go.

As the parish nurse, I continue to be involved in numerous ways.  In addition to be involved on Sunday mornings, I provide ongoing advice, ensuring the information our church community is working with is the most up to date.  It is truly a privilege to work together as a team; as nurse, pastor, and elder board, having a common goal to experience the privilege of meeting in-person once again for church gatherings.

At the intersection of faith and health, Parish Nurses were made for such a time as this.

Post written by:


Janelda Cornfield  BSc, RN, BScN
Parish Nurse
Sunrise Community Church

3303 – 37 St NW

Edmonton, AB  T6L 5P9


Kathleen Dempsey-Glegloff  RN, BSN
Congregational Care Nurse
The River Community Church

11520 Ellerslie Rd SW

Edmonton, AB  T5W 1A2

Leave a Reply