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Companions of compassion.

The word "companion" comes from the Old French word "compaignon" with the first usage noted in 1297, derived from the Latin roots, com- ("with") and panis ("bread"), meaning literally, "someone you break bread with." The word "compassion" also comes through Old French (1340) from Latin roots, com- and pati ("to suffer").

Certainly we suffer when our nearest and dearest are hurting--our families and friends with whom we break bread often. It is rare in healthcare, however, to be part of a "breaking bread" community with the people for whom you are caring. Yet that is precisely what parish nurses and health ministers do on a regular basis--they break bread with their fellow parishioners--as companions on a spiritual journey of healing and wholeness.

Parish nurses and health ministers offer hospitality (from which the word hospital comes, as you know). Going to the hospital can often be an anxiety-producing endeavor. There is a phalanx of personnel to encounter with name, rank, and serial number: receptionists, registration clerks, LPNs, medical technicians, radiology technicians, dietary staff, unit clerks--not even counting the RNs and the doctors who may or may not know much about a patient other than their presenting condition. The patient is surrounded by a plethora of medical terminology, procedures, and interventions (for which we give thanks, usually!) But it is still intimidating to a patient and his or her family, and there is the concern about adverse incidents and/or infections. What a gift the presence of a parish nurse can provide fellow parishioners, as compassionate companions on the journey of healing!

Parish nurse Gloria Wiebe, asking in her article, "Why is it so hard to talk about spirituality?" (page 8), served as a compassionate companion to another RN from her parish in Toronto who was going through a painful and terrifying health crisis. She encourages us to consider whether all healthcare providers should intentionally integrate care of the spirit into their professional practice. Whether or not that is possible, certainly there is great need and possibility for this care among those who break bread, suffer, and rejoice together in communities of faith in places everywhere.


Rev. Dr. Deborah Patterson

Executive Director

P.S. Congratulations to Gloria for being nominated for the 2008 Toronto Star's Florence Nightingale Award! Read more on page 2. Congratulations, also, to the Canadian Association for Parish Nursing Ministry on their 10th Anniversary. (You can read more about that on page 4.)

And blessings to the New Zealand Faith Community Nurses Association, which will celebrate its 10th Anniversary this year as well. More information about their conference is on-line at
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Author:Patterson, Deborah
Publication:Parish Nurse Perspectives
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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