Rural Parish Nurses - Spotlight

Answering a Call to Help Others Live Healthfully

For the first half of her 30-year career, Sybil Perrell worked in busy hospitals, caring for patients when they were critically ill.

These days, she works in a quiet office at a rural North Carolina church. As a parish nurse at Woodleaf United Methodist near Salisbury, she spends her days helping people stay healthy.

Wellness and Prevention

“I do a little bit of everything,” she says, “but a lot of this is about wellness and prevention and working on reaching people before they’ve gotten to the point of needing medication.”

One person may stop by to have Perrell check his blood pressure. Someone else might come in to ask questions about diabetes. Another person may have concerns about prescribed medication.

Perrell, a lifetime member of Woodleaf, likes helping her neighbors.

“On Sundays, I’m on duty whenever I’m at the church,” she says. “And the other night at choir practice, I talked to a woman about her shingles.”

Perrell also spends time creating prevention programs that address common health care issues. A recent weight loss series, for example, combined healthy eating tips with a Bible study. Participants weighed in weekly and met at a local grocery store to learn about nutritious food choices.

Perrell also wrote a study that focused on the Bible and the food pyramid. “So if we were talking about grains, I looked for passages that had to do with wheat and bread. If we were talking about fruit, I looked for how many times the Bible mentions fruit.”

Health and Ministry

Since outreach is important to Woodleaf, all programs are open to the community. At a health fair in March, Perrell guesses that half of the attendees were not church members.

The Duke Endowment began funding the program at Woodleaf in June 2008 with a three-year grant of $45,000. Perrell also works as a parish nurse for a nearby Presbyterian church; she’s affiliated with Carolinas Medical Center-NorthEast in Concord, N.C.

She sees the job as a calling.

“I’ve always wanted to be able to help people,” Perrell says. “This is a way for me to use 30 years of nursing and be in ministry to others.”