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Out of the office: the role of faith community nursing

Going to a doctor’s office is a scary experience for many. Patients often find the language and instructions confusing and leave unsure of what they’re supposed to do at home to get better.
That’s where Faith Community Nursing comes in, says Rowan County health ministry coordinator Linda Pigg. An employee of Carolinas Healthcare System, Pigg is in charge of overseeing Faith Community Nurses in Rowan County, and says that the role is often misunderstood.
Faith community nurses are found in all faith communities, and partner with a church or temple and Carolinas Healthcare System to run an independent mission that focuses on health education and the intentional care of spiritual health.
“It’s incorporating mind, body, and spirit,” Pigg said.
Since Faith Community Nurses seek to build trust and personal relationships in the community, they are often able to help community members understand doctor’s orders and medications requirements. And because they’re familiar with the community, they are also able to look at the big picture.
Education coordinator for Carolinas Healthcare System Lynne Golie said that faith community nurses are able to look at all aspects of a person’s life, and discover what’s preventing them from becoming healthy. You can’t take medication you can’t afford, Golie said, or give much thought to proper nutrition if you barely have enough to eat — these are both problems Faith Community Nurses seek to understand and address.
Gloria Ross is one such faith community nurse. Ross, an employee of Carolinas Healthcare System, works with her church, the South China Grove Church of God, to reach the people in the surrounding community through her organization, South Side Community Outreach. But her role extends far beyond the walls of the church.
“I am an advocate for the community,” Ross said.
Three years ago on a Sunday morning, Ross was sitting at the organ during service when pastor Joyce Miles asked the congregation why, if 12 men could make such an impact on the world by destroying the World Trade Centers, 12 people could not impact the world for the gospel. Ross says she spoke up then and there.
“Well, why can’t we do it?” she asked.
Miles turned around and appointed her as outreach director on the spot. When she looked at the to-do list for the position, Ross saw that Miles was hoping to add an official parish nurse. A nurse for nearly 30 years at that point, Ross volunteered. She got in contact with Pigg, and two years later her ministry is booming. Pigg says the number of people Ross serves these days is unbelievable.
“This ministry started out as nothing but her dream,” Pigg said.
Now, Ross does a little bit of everything. The typical role of a faith community nurse is to educate and support, Golie says, but each community is unique. The community Ross serves in South China Grove often struggles to meet daily needs — food, clothing or an education.
So Ross stepped in to feed them. She runs a food pantry that serviced 1,200 people in March and 1,100 in February. On Tuesdays from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. she runs a soup kitchen — which is also available Wednesday evenings before the church’s worship service. The leftovers, Ross says, she takes up to the Economy Inn in Salisbury to feed the tenants. It doesn’t matter what position someone is in, or who they are, Ross says, she’ll help everyone she can.
“Everybody’s got good in ‘em,” she said, “I don’t care how they look.”
Ross also runs a clothing closet, a card ministry, height and weight assessments, a backpack program at Landis Elementary, checks fire alarms in homes, takes meals to the elderly and shut-ins on the weekends, and runs a blood pressure clinic at the senior center and Main Street Family Mission — to name just a few.
“I just love what I do,” Ross said.
Pigg says that Ross has gone above and beyond the call of duty for a faith community nurse.
“She’s taken it and just broadened it; its scope is amazing,” Pigg said.
But Pigg says Ross’s real talent is in organizing volunteers. Ross may be the powerhouse behind the ministry, but she’s not alone. She has a cabinet of 10 workers who help her plan and brainstorm, and 31 volunteers.
“I’m not the boss here,” Ross says of her volunteers. It’s a team effort. Ross says she helps each volunteer find something they can do with their talents. Whether it’s running a card ministry that sends a Christmas card to every foster child in Rowan County or serving chili at the soup kitchen, Ross can use anyone as long as they have the desire to help.
“This ministry enables people to give back. To give what they can.” Pigg said.
One of the things that sets faith community nurses apart from, say, home health nurses, is that they pay special attention to the spiritual facet of health. This is a role that Ross takes very seriously. A bowl full of Bible verses rests in South Side Community Outreach’s lobby, and Ross herself reaches out to everyone who walks through the door.
“Everybody that comes in this office with an issue, prayer happens for them,” Ross said.
She’s proud of what she’s built, and says the key was a lot of hard work.
“This is not gonna happen overnight,” Ross said. “You burn the midnight oil.”
Carolinas Healthcare System requires all faith community nurses to be active, certified registered nurses, and to take classes and training courses so they’re up to date on the latest medical knowledge. In between her education with Carolinas Healthcare System and her ministry, Ross is the organist and choir leader for her church and volunteers for the Family Crisis Council of Rowan County.
With all she’s done, Ross still has big plans. She wants to run a weekly blood pressure assessment out of South Side Community Outreach, to perform BMI and weight assessments, pursue a battery intervention program, and to start an after-school tutoring program.
Ross has been involved in mission work since she was 16 — she’s even gone overseas, but she says there’s something special about working as a faith community nurse.
“It’s my own home mission field,” she said.
South Side Community Outreach takes donations. Contact Gloria Ross at gloriajrosscorporate@gmail.com, or donate through Southside Church of God. For those interested in volunteering, speak to Gloria Ross on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. at South Side Community Outreach. For those interested in becoming a faith community nurse, contact Linda Pigg at 704-403-4742.

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