Parish nurse Lawder provides wealth of healthy resources for AROS


     Counselor. Teacher. Prayer partner. Writer. Confidant. Advocate. Event planner. Nurse.
      Mary Lawder manages to squeeze a wide variety of roles into a 20-hour work week. Lawder, the district parish nurse for the Atlanta Roswell District, doesn’t allow a mere three-word job title to limit the scope of her efforts.
     “Mary has been an invaluable resource for us,” said Ed Tomlinson, superintendent for the Atlanta Roswell District (AROS). “I have been amazed by the number of people who call to seek her advice and to benefit from her knowledge and experience.”
    Tomlinson, who served as senior pastor of a number of local churches before become a D.S., understands the benefit of clergy members having access to a health care professional.
    “I whole-heartedly support the confidential nature of Mary’s interaction with our clergy and their spouses,” he said. “There are many aspects of health and wellness that people need to be able to discuss in private. They need someone they can trust. Mary is that person. She not only helps promote physical wellness, but is eager to prayer for people as well.”
     Lawder’s unique role in the North Georgia Conference began in March 2009 after Tomlinson learned about a grant awarded by the Georgia Baptist Health Ministry Foundation to the Georgia Cancer Coalition to develop cancer support ministries in faith-based communities. The role was originally intended to focus on cancer support ministry at a single church. Tomlinson proposed a larger role, having a parish nurse for all of the clergy, families and laity of the 54 churches in AROS District.     
    Lawder’s responsibilities were originally intended to focus on cancer support ministry at a single church. Tomlinson proposed a larger role, having a parish nurse available for all of the clergy, families and laity of the 54 churches in AROS.
     Since taking the position in April 2009, Lawder’s role have evolved.
     “The first-year priority was to assist the clergy and the local churches to develop/implement cancer support ministries within their congregations,” said Lawder (RN, BSN, FCN). “The cancer ministry work continues, but now my primary focus is the health of the clergy. Research shows that clergy health tends to be at the bottom of the list among all professionals.  Pastors care for their flocks well but often omit self-care such as exercise, rest, eating a healthy diet, leisure activities. As a registered nurse and a parish nurse, I work with the clergy and their families to set goals for a healthier lifestyle.”
     By this definition, a parish nurse (FCN faith community nurse) is a licensed registered nurse who has received additional training in serving in the faith community. The parish nurse does not operate a medical clinic and does not provide hands-on or invasive medical care.
          The parish nurse’s role is to provide health counseling, resources and referrals to church, medical or community based agencies, to train and supervise volunteers in health/congregational care ministry areas, to serve as a health educator, to act as an advocate for persons unable to speak or act on their behalf.
    Lawder sees to it that blood pressures are checked weekly or monthly, as needed, and she provides personal health counseling as well as referrals to additional care/consultation from physicians, psychologists, or other community health agencies as needed.
           She also helps facilitate preventative screenings for cancer, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, depression, and heart disease.
      “One of my most important roles is listening to the pastors and to clergy spouses,” she said, “providing a safe, confidential place for them to express personal health concerns, to vent, to laugh or cry, to just ‘be’ promotes optimal whole person health. The local church congregations benefit greatly when their pastors are healthy and happy. Healthy pastors become an excellent role model for the congregants themselves to work toward the abundant life that Jesus desires for each one.”
    Before accepting her position at AROS, Lawder served as parish nurse at Norcross First UMC. She is a member of Dunwoody UMC, where her husband, Keith Lawder, serves as Minister of Spiritual Formation.
     She has clearly found a role where she can utilize a wide array of her gifts, talents and training.
      “I enjoy teaching classes and meeting with members of the different church congregations and communities,” Lawder said. “I can also find qualified medical or specific agency speakers who have expertise in health/disease prevention topics to speak at local church or district events on everything from prenatal care, childhood obesity, safety, women’s or men’s health, Alzheimer’s disease, aging, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, depression, grief, just to name a few.”
      Lawder also makes herself available to make home, hospital, nursing home, hospice visits per request from the pastors or from the church members.
    At present, Lawder is the only known parish nurse within the United Methodist denomination whose focus is primarily on clergy health. Tomlinson would like to see that change.
        “We need to do everything we can to support the health and wellbeing of our clergy and their families,” Tomlinson said. “We know that pastors, in particular, tend to have unhealthy lifestyles. Having people like Mary around to help and support can make a great difference.”