Unusual staff positions benefit churches
A nurse, a lawyer and a dancer walked into a church ...
It sounds like the start of a joke, but for these three women, it's how they begin their workday.
Each of them has taken a career usually seen in the secular world and carried her professional skills and passion to a position on a church staff.
Joy Eastridge, R.N., has been a parish nurse for 20 years. She was first on staff at Mafair United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tennessee. In 2005, she moved to First Broad Street UMC in Kingsport where she remains. Earlier this year, she became the first United Methodist Certified Lay Minister (CLM) with the specialization of parish nurse.
When her children were small, Eastridge took two years off from nursing. In 1997, she felt ready to get back.
"During a mission celebration at church, I felt an actual call to go into the ministry," she said. "This was in February. I told God I wanted to follow him, but I still wanted to be a nurse — two loves combined. In March I saw an ad for a parish nurse. I thought, ‘This is my dream job.' But I told myself it would be too much. It wound up it was a 12-hour-a-week job at Mafair, so I did that. This was what God has called me to do.
"Parish nurses are advocates, educators and information providers. I do a lot of visitation. I enable others to do ministry. My role is helping to connect people and discerning needs and gifts, then putting those together. My nursing gives me a special insight into helping people with health issues. I'm a resource person, especially for caregivers of people at home. I know about services in the area and help people connect. I provide spiritual support and do end-of-life visitation."
She also encourages church members to make healthy lifestyle choices. She coordinates a hiking club, walking activities and basketball and urges good eating, health and wellness.
First Broad Street is a congregation of more than 2,000. Many are at-home (homebound) members served by the church's ministries. Eastridge finds and supports coordinators for taking communion, sending cards and delivering small gifts on birthdays.
When Eastridge heard about the CLM certification for parish nurses, she was interested immediately.
To become certified, she first completed a two-week orientation to parish nursing. It can now be done online.
"You get the basics," she said. "Every parish nurse experience will be a little different because each congregation is different. Every relationship is different. The PN is always under the direction of the senior pastor. You have to work well with the staff and use the gifts within the context of your congregation."
Following the orientation, it took Eastridge about six months of work online to complete all the modules for her certification.
Jodi Cataldo, director of Laity in Leadership for the Leadership Ministries area of Discipleship Ministries, said many parish nurses are in their system, but they don't carry the endorsement of the denomination because they lack the United Methodist studies in the certification curriculum. A number of parish nurses are now in the process of seeking CLM certification. (Here is the process for laity to become certified lay ministers with a parish nurse specialization. Clergy can also earn certification as parish nurses.)
"Of all the specializations we offer for CLMs, the UM Parish Nurse is by far gaining the most momentum," Cataldo said.
First Grace is a church born from Hurricane Katrina. Two congregations — one mostly white, one mostly black — joined when both were struggling with a new normal following the storm.
Davis, who grew up in Natchez, Mississippi, was excited about the opportunity to work with First Grace.
The church has ministries for the congregation — programs for children and youth, a vibrant Latino ministry, music and visual arts, United Methodist Women, ushers and greeters and more. However, the church realized quickly that it also needed to be reaching out into the community.
The church started a food pantry, parenting classes, free Spanish and English classes and a Wednesday night supper and Bible study ministry. In 2007, it opened Hagar's House, a shelter for homeless women and children. Seven years later, Project Ishmael, a small clinic providing direct legal representation for children of immigrants, began.
Both Hagar's House and Project Ishmael are missions of First Grace Community Alliance, a 501(c) (3) organization formed by the church.
Davis moved into Hagar's House, working with the ministry and the church. Before long, she became convinced she could do more as an attorney. She went to Loyola University's law school at night, passed the bar and became the sole attorney for Project Ishmael.
"I work with the children primarily," Davis said. "There is such a need for representation for these children and families of immigrants. I like these kids. My law office is covered with puzzles and picture books. These kids see justice so clearly. They see right and wrong."
A newer activity for Davis is drawing up guardianship paperwork for children that spells out who will care for the youngsters should their undocumented parents be deported. A church member volunteered to notarize all the provisional custody forms.
Davis said she is thankful for the volunteers who sustain Project Ishmael. "The church owns the house where we live and work," she said. "They provide meals. They respond to any needs. Since the presidential inauguration last January, we've had a lot of support to do for the immigrants."
She also acknowledged her need for intercessory prayers.
"Being a person of faith is what led me to this community of faith," she said. "I covet prayer for the work. My mom and my home church pray for me. I ask for prayers from the people at First Grace. Pastor Shawn (Anglim, pastor of First Grace) prays a lot."
Davis said one of her prayers right now is for another lawyer to work with Project Ishmael.
"If we had another attorney, we could help three times the number of kids!"
Jenny Logus is artistic director of Studio 150, a ministry of First United Methodist Church in Winter Park, Florida. The studio is self-funded and led by a board of five church members. It also has an arts administrator from the church.
The church's website describes the dance studio as a ministry of the church with a "commitment to artistic excellence and innovation. Studio 150 serves the community through the art of dance. Teaching responsibility, respect and caring, Studio 150 is developing youth to become Christian adults with quality dance education."
Artistic director of Studio 150 since 2015, Logus works alongside seven dance instructors to teach about 60 students.
A member of the Greek Orthodox Church, Logus saw dance work as a ministry in her own church when she was a member of the youth group. "I know dance is a part of our [Greek Orthodox] culture, and I saw it work, bringing our youth together," she said. "I believe that is true for dance in general. It brings unity."
As a professional, Logus said she learns alongside the students.
"I believe any time you are in a new setting that is different from where you were before, you always learn something new," she said. "Working with the board (she requested) has been great. I have someone who has my back. We have all been able to grow with and help the kids. I have a board who has a vision and is leading the way."
Polly House is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee, who currently serves as editorial assistant for Interpreter.