The Woodward News

February 1, 2013

Meeting to focus on health ministries

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — St. Peter's Catholic Church in Woodward was recently recognized for its efforts to encourage healthy habits within its faith community.  And now St. Peter's wants to help other churches start their own health ministries.

The Catholic church will be holding an informational meeting from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Feb. 9 to discuss the role of health ministries and help interested community members learn how they can organize and implement new health programs at their churches.

Debra Boeckman is a local registered nurse and a member of St. Peter's Parish Nursing and Health Ministry Team. The meeting will be held in Kennedy Hall on the Catholic church's campus, which is located at 2020 Oklahoma Ave.

Boeckman said the goal of the informational meeting on Feb. 9 is "basically to introduce what faith community nursing, or parish nursing as we call it, to other churches in the community and what the benefits are to have it in your church."

The meeting will be led by  Mary Diane Steltenkamp, RN and director of Faith Community Nursing at Catholic Charities in Oklahoma City.

Steltenkamp said that St. Peter's is a good example for other churches to learn from because the local parish was recently presented with a best practices award for promoting health from Catholic Charities USA.

She said St. Peter's was recognized because of the efforts of its Parish Nursing and Health Ministry Team, which has sponsored a variety of programs at the church to help parish members improve their health.

She said one such program that helped the church earn the best practices award was called "Walk to Jerusalem."  During this program, parish members were encouraged to get outside and walk, keeping track of how far they walked each week throughout the Lenten season.

Then on a weekly basis, Steltenkamp said the "people of the parish would calculate how many miles everyone had walked and would place a sticker on a map showing how far they had come" as if they were walking the 4,000 or so miles that separate Woodward from Jerusalem.

The 6-week long Walk to Jerusalem was "both a walking program and a reflection program," Steltenkamp said.  Because it allowed people to reflect spiritually on Jesus' own journey to Jerusalem while also encouraging them to become active and get exercise for their physical health, she said.

It turned out to be quite a popular and successful program, because "when Easter came, they realized they had passed their goal," she said.

Boeckman said the St. Peter's health ministry also offers "a lot of health education programs with a focus on disease prevention and health promotion within the community."

Since starting the health ministry in 2010, she said the church has held programs that teach members how to make lifestyle changes and diet changes to help them manage diseases like diabetes.  She said the church has also held blood pressure screenings for members "periodically after mass."  There have also been programs to help parishioners with end of life care, including advanced directives and living wills.

Steltenkamp said she plans to share more information about additional programs like these during her presentation on Feb. 9 to help explain "the concept of health ministries and how they are being done in Woodward and across the state and across our nation."

"I will share stories of how effectively these ministries work," she said.

Steltenkamp said she believes health ministries are important because "churches can play a significant role in the health of the community."

The reason, she said, is because "people will more readily access their faith community to learn about health than they would other agencies."

She said people turn to others within their own churches for help because "there's a level of trust there."

Because of that, Steltenkamp believes that it becomes part of the duty, or even mission, of churches to help their members live healthier lives.

"Healing was such a big part of Jesus' mission and what he did in his life, so as communities of faith I think we should try to pick up the healing mission in a more active and proactive way," she said.

Boeckman said that is part of why St. Peter's is wanting to help other churches start their own health ministries, so that even more people across all denominations can be helped.

"We're hoping that if other churches start up programs like ours then we will all be able to pool resources and ideas," she said.  "So when we do have people and experts come in for educational talks, then we'll be able to reach a bigger audience and impact more people and be more of a community outreach."

Both Boeckman and Steltenkamp said that anyone who is interested in starting a health ministry in another church is invited to attend the Feb. 9 seminar.

They said this can include health professionals such as nurses and doctors, as well as lay people who are "just interested in caring and healing."

While the seminar is open to the public and free to attend, those wanting to participate must reserve their spots by calling Boeckman at (580) 484-2344.

"Lunch will be provided so we ask for people to make reservations so we can have an estimate of how many to expect for lunch," she said.