Tony Lobl: Today I’m talking to Vanessa Campbell, a Christian Science nurse from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Before we begin, I’d like to share my connection with Christian Science nursing. My wife was a Christian Science nurse for a decade and a half and I also did Christian Science nurse’s introductory training and some Christian Science nursing in the Field along with a mentor. I went on to become a Christian Science Committee on Publication, and one of my duties was representing Christian Science nursing in conversations with legislators and regulators. And as an Associate Editor at the Journal, Sentinel, and Herald magazines I continue to appreciate just how valuable Christian Science nursing is.
Vanessa, can you share your story? How did you get into Christian Science nursing?
Vanessa Campbell: When I graduated from high school, I tried community college and different jobs, but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing with my life. And I felt uninspired and lost at one point. So someone very close to me said, “Have you thought about writing down some of your qualities, and looking at the things that you’re good at? Then,” they said, “we could look at your options for careers.”
So one of the things that came up on our list of possibilities was “Christian Science nurse.” Now, I didn’t really know what that was! But that just kept calling to me, and I wasn’t sure why. But I listened to God in prayer and I decided to investigate. I took an introductory class. And in that class my eyes were opened to what this ministry really was. Quite frankly, I fell in love with it.
How would you define this ministry? What was it you fell in love with?
Well, I know it sounds big, but in that first Christian Science nursing class, I really felt like this was the health care for the future of humanity. I had always loved Christian Science, and in fact, I think that’s what led to my decision to choose this particular option, because practicing Christian Science and thinking metaphysically and living spiritually was just such a joy for me.
I loved what I got to learn from these very experienced Christian Science nurses, who were some of the most amazing people I had ever met in terms of their qualities. They expressed lightheartedness, genuine goodness, and were unfazed by challenging situations. And each one had a heart that beat for others. There was something really uplifting about being around Christian Science nurses.
You clearly have a love for and suitability for Christian Science nursing. Something I’d like to mention is that there’s a Christian Science practitioner generally praying with a patient when a Christian Science nurse is involved, unless the patient is praying on their own. So why do we need Christian Science nurses?
You might call on a Christian Science nurse when you have practical care needs. Someone may need help because they aren’t presently able to bear weight or walk. Care could be given entirely in bed if that’s the present need. Someone may require skillful assistance with cleansing and covering a wound. Christian Science nurses provide comfort and cleanliness in helping with bathing. The Christian Science nurse can care for those who are not eating comfortably and need help finding nourishment, by compassionately preparing and providing food in ways that enable the patient to ingest it.
Sometimes it can be challenging to try to care for yourself while you’re also praying. But also sometimes you can physically do everything on your own, and you may still feel like you’re struggling and you’re alone. We have Christian Science nurses as that wonderful support to healing, to proper care, which means expecting complete healing. I think it really is important to not struggle on your own when you realize you need a little, or even a lot, of assistance, whatever that may be.
Just explain a bit more, please. Because again, I think a lot of people will think Christian Science nursing is just about providing physical and emotional support. Of course that’s important, but what’s the deeper mental component, the spiritual role you play?
The requirements in Mary Baker Eddy’s Manual of The Mother Church, in the By-Law for Christian Science nursing, state, “A member of The Mother Church who represents himself or herself as a Christian Science nurse shall be one who has a demonstrable knowledge of Christian Science practice, who thoroughly understands the practical wisdom necessary in a sick room, and who can take proper care of the sick” (p. 49).
I’ve thought a lot about Christ Jesus’ saying, “As I have loved you, . . . love one another” (John 13:34), and, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love” (John 15:9). In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the textbook of Christian Science, Mrs. Eddy says that “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man. . .” (pp. 476–477). The Christian Science nurse is very skillful in practical things, but first and foremost, we are beholding the perfect man and expressing Christlike compassion.
So often when we’re called to a case and we come, there’s just this wonderful feeling of peace and a sense of dominion and that all will be well. Just a loving Christlike assurance. And so there’s such spiritual-mindedness infused with the care that a Christian Science nurse brings.
I know it sounds big, but in that first Christian Science nursing class, I really felt like this was the health care for the future of humanity.
It’s a lovely thing that the ethics for Christian Science nursing come right out of the Bible and Science and Health. There’s also the idea of “maintain[ing] the dignity and defense” of the Cause of Christian Science (Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 148).
The ethics of Christian Science are very clear. We have the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the Golden Rule, and more, putting others before ourselves—being considerate and confidential and honest. The qualities go on and on.
Christ Jesus, in his ministry, is our example. Christian Scientists love Christ Jesus and follow his ministry dearly and closely. He showed us how to love each other, how to care for each other, and how to heal. Our Leader, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mrs. Eddy, certainly followed Jesus and told us to follow her “only so far as she follows Christ” (Message to The Mother Church for 1901, p. 34). We follow in those footsteps. A huge part of that is a very natural, tangible expression of love for each other. And this also includes an adherence to integrity, morality, and an obedience to divine law.
Christian Science involves Christian Science treatment, a particular approach to prayer which, as we have said, is the responsibility of the Christian Science practitioner on a case. And yet the prayers of the Christian Science nurse, while not treatment per se, can have a great impact. I’ve found that when the Christian Science nurse brings a clear, prayerful sense of what’s spiritual and real into the room, there is a very tangible expression of divine Love, God’s care, that others can recognize. It often reduces the fear surrounding the case, right? Care becomes very tangible when the Christian Science nurse knocks on the door and walks in the house or the room reflecting God’s love.
Absolutely. Our medicine is the divine Truth, or Mind, which is God. So the practitioner is working prayerfully for the patient from that basis. And if there’s a need for more support, an encouraging presence and skillful care that’s infused with spiritual-mindedness, then a Christian Science nurse can be there in an unobtrusive way.
This care doesn’t interfere with that important relationship between the patient and the practitioner or the patient and the family. Everyone involved is listening to God, listening to the ministering angels present, and working together in harmony for healing. The practitioner is giving the patient metaphysical treatment, and as the Christian Science nurse on the case, we are healing our own thoughts, and really, really leaning on and expressing those spiritual qualities that are needed.
Science and Health talks about the qualities that any nurse should have: They include being “cheerful, orderly, punctual, patient, full of faith,—receptive to Truth and Love” (p. 395). And those qualities deliver us from the depths. The marginal heading for those qualities is “Aids in sickness,” and they support that healing atmosphere.
For someone who is reading this, who wants to either care for someone in their own family or even more broadly care for the world, just explain a bit more how you heal your own thought and how the atmosphere is permeated with love. How does the Christian Science nurse address their own thought?
The pastor of The Church of Christ, Scientist, the Bible and Science and Health, just gives us everything we could possibly need to overcome any difficulty, any situation. I’ve seen it time and time again! When we go to those books and we really are listening and praying and working with the wonderful ideas in there, they bring forth these inspired, healing ideas for care in individual situations. And I would attribute that to angels, “God’s thoughts passing to man” (Science and Health, p. 581).
Can you give an example?
Sure. There was a situation where there was a patient who was receiving most of their care in bed and could only get out of bed for very short periods of time. They needed their food modified to liquid form and needed to be fed a little at a time, and couldn’t always retain what they were eating. The family would visit and were very concerned, even though they were comforted at the prayer and care this loved one was receiving. For months the patient needed help with everything. The practitioner was praying every day. And the patient was so earnest and just loved to be read to and was holding to new thoughts every day.
I remember at one point I had an “aha” moment. I was going in the patient’s room and I was reminded of something my mother used to say: “You can’t do the same thing over and over and then expect a different result.” And I thought, “OK, what can I be knowing that’s new and inspired, which will just bring a real, tangible comfort here—a real sense of divine Love, not personal human love, but truly a help?”
What I remember thinking is that it was very important that I had full expectancy of healing—knowing that this person, in fact, was already well and whole and that it was right to be able to fully see it. It was important for me to not let a disturbing picture distract me from fulfilling my role on this case. And I really would expect good in every moment. That’s quite a discipline!
What’s really beautiful is that the individual did have a complete healing, a complete restoration to health. One morning when I had gone into the room, they were sitting in their chair. Although they were still quite thin, there was this glow about their face. They looked so energetic and seemed so happy and asked for solid food. And I could tell something had shifted. I don’t know what. I don’t know what the wonderful thing that changed for them had been. But it was so beautiful.
I know, too, that my responsibility had been to be full of faith. Jesus talks about if you have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed, you can move mountains. And I would say there are times that I have had to work a little harder to make sure that I have that much faith, and more. This was one of those situations where I had discerned what I needed to bring to that room, and I was inspired to do it no matter what.
That’s beautiful. Well, this gives us a lovely sense of what the Christian Science nurse does and brings. Why would you say someone would want to be a Christian Science nurse? You’ve already described your own love of Christian Science nursing. Is there anything you want to add?
There’s this poem in Mrs. Eddy’s Retrospection and Introspection on page 95 that she quotes, and it says,
Ask God to give thee skill
In comfort’s art:
That thou may’st consecrated be
And set apart
Unto a life of sympathy.
For heavy is the weight of ill
In every heart;
And comforters are needed much
Of Christlike touch.
—A. E. Hamilton
When I am praying and loving people and—just as in the parable of the good Samaritan in the Bible—listening and watching and journeying for where I need to be, I am the happiest and the most successful. When we’re serving God and giving of our heart’s overflow, we’re glad, and we’re a comfort to others. But it also is nourishing ourselves.
I’m thinking of a quote by Mary Baker Eddy, “Happiness consists in being and in doing good; only what God gives, and what we give ourselves and others through His tenure, confers happiness: conscious worth satisfies the hungry heart, and nothing else can” (Message to The Mother Church for 1902, p. 17). What I remember when I was working in a Christian Science nursing facility, is that there’s really obvious spiritual growth going on among the Christian Science nurses. Maybe even accelerated spiritual growth. Where does spiritual growth come from or fit in for the Christian Science nurse?
Well, you do grow spiritually a lot! But you don’t have to jump into this nursing all at once. You can find out a little more about it first. It really is about expressing Godlike qualities. That’s what comes to mind, just these simple, natural qualities that we all have that you get to practice and you get to express while sharing your love of Christian Science. And that really is like fuel. You keep growing and you keep learning and witnessing healings, having your own wonderful healings. And taking little steps that continually lead to greater opportunities.
A big part of spiritual growth in this work is prayer and spiritual study, spending time with the pastor, as I mentioned before. That’s really probably the biggest part of the work. That is not something that stops after you’ve had training. It is a regular thing that we need to do in order to feed our ministry, in order to care for others, with the comfort of the Comforter that Jesus promised, which is what makes this work buoyant. As you’re praying and getting these wonderful inspirations and ideas from your prayers, you’re putting them into practice. You’re also putting off a false sense of self, constantly.
I remember when I came into Christian Science nurses training, and there were quite a few times that I realized I was really struggling with the training, I knew that there was something that I didn’t want to let go of mentally. And I was quite aware and thought, “You know what? Let go, ‘put it on the altar,’ so to speak—let’s give this over to God.” When you’re willing to give up the false sense of self, you don’t lose any of your individuality. Sometimes we hold things really tightly that aren’t best for our spiritual growth. And when we’re willing to let those go, it’s amazing to see the wonderful results. There were some beautiful healings and experiences that I witnessed. And it wasn’t about me. It really was the Christ doing the work.
Well, one of the ideas in Christian Science healing is that we are not physical or material, but spiritual. And so that spiritual growth is seen as turning away from the physical and the material to the spiritual. Yet on a day-to-day basis, the Christian Science nurse is actually saying, “I’m willing to go into what can seem like a ‘lions’ den’ of seeing physical evidence that’s discordant, but expect healing.”
The Christian Science nurse first has to be able to face the physical condition as he or she is caring for the patient. The humble willingness to do that might seem to run contrary to the practice of knowing the unreality of discord—can you comment on this?
As a Christian Science nurse, we turn away from that physical evidence without turning away from our fellow man! I like to think about it that way, because you’re never believing the discord you’re seeing, but you have the love and humanity to help people, to be with them and support them.
I was working with someone once who was in a great deal of pain, and they could not seem to get comfortable. It’s certainly not right to be in pain! And so the practitioner was called and was praying and was working closely with the patient. I was praying to heal my thought, to bring peace to the atmosphere and to know the truth for all mankind. There was an alertness and a listening.
In this instance, I felt led to open the Christian Science Hymnal. This person was visibly struggling, but I thought, “I can feel confident that the treatment is being done. And I am going to read these hymns out loud.” What we’re inspired to do will vary. We might be saying a prayer, it might be reading something, it might be quietly affirming the truth of God and God’s idea, man. But in this instance, I was reading hymns to this lifelong Christian Scientist. They knew most of these hymns by heart. I just read softly and quietly and just kept reading.
I don’t remember how many hymns I read, but the patient fell asleep, and when they awoke, there was no more pain. It just was such a really sweet example of how pain can be faced with Christian Science care.
I would say for people who are reluctant to ask for help, don’t let personal sense keep you from something that would contribute
to your freedom.
The grace with which you were led to do something so specific that clearly was instrumental in the healing is very encouraging. I love a phrase about sunlight gliding into the sick-chamber from Science and Health (see p. 516), and to me, that is a metaphor for the Christian Science nursing “gliding” into the sick room. Doing all things with grace. We talked a bit about the Manual By-Law regarding Christian Science nursing, didn’t we? But maybe we haven’t specifically addressed the part about “practical wisdom.”
Happy to address that. The By-Law talks about “the practical wisdom necessary in a sick room” and “proper care.” Practical wisdom is something very specific and very special in Christian Science. It certainly includes having metaphysical clarity and that loving, Christlike thought. And it is also being prepared to meet the practical needs of our fellow man with skill and tenderness, and compassion.
Christian Science nurses training is so important. You learn things like helping someone have a shampoo and bed linen change in a very orderly fashion, without the patient ever leaving the bed. You can help to move someone in a bed, perhaps with other Christian Science nurses assisting, and it’s done so skillfully and so gently and with such kindness that it’s comfortable.
Christian Science nurses become really skilled at seeing where there’s a need to assist those they care for. And they are also able to see those areas where the patient is really able to do certain things for themselves and will encourage them to do that—provided it’s kind and safe to ask them to do so. And being responsive in that way is really important because we’re always honoring the right that each individual has to express those freedoms that are innate.
The By-Law is complete, it isn’t fragmented, and as we go deep and follow it in its entirety, we can know that when we express “the practical wisdom necessary in a sick room,” which springs from a demonstrable knowledge of Christian Science practice, that this will result in “proper care.” Proper care should be sound in every way, both to an observer and to the one receiving care.
What alerts the individual or the family to know that the individual needs a Christian Science nurse?
If a family that is caring for a family member or a patient is feeling that their care is an awful lot, a burden for them, it may be time to call a Christian Science nurse. Or if someone wonders if they’re caring properly or in the most compassionate and skillful way, a Christian Science nurse can help.
Sometimes when you’re faced with something day in, day out, it feels very real, very personal. And I think it just would be so good if we were all ready to call for this help sooner rather than later. Science and Health actually says to call early for help from an experienced Christian Scientist if we don’t readily heal ourselves (see p. 420). While this is written in the context of a discussion about Christian Science treatment, to me it means that when you see that something’s challenging and you could use a little more help, not to hesitate. Not to feel awkward or uncomfortable about it, but to reach out and get support.
Sometimes the patient gets very discouraged, or the family does, and you see that thought is just getting heavier and heavier, and there’s no need for that. You can have the Christian Science nurse bring that sense of support, joy, and expectancy to the case. Healing is inevitable.
In The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, Mrs. Eddy says that “each Rule and By-law in [the Church Manual] will increase the spirituality of him who obeys it” (p. 230). So that includes taking into account the provisions of the “Christian Science Nurse” By-Law. Calling a Christian Science nurse early on really can bring tangible aid and pierce through the darkness.
So this suggests that often, perhaps, as individuals, we’re resistant. Are there any tips you would have for someone who’s resisting the idea of calling a Christian Science nurse?
There can be this tendency, I think, not to want to inconvenience anyone. Or sometimes there’s perhaps a feeling that if one calls a Christian Science nurse, it will be an invasion of their privacy and that there may be judgment or it will feel awkward. We should ask ourselves if these are mortal mind’s ways of keeping us from getting the help we need.
I actually had a healing recently where I thought I would just go ahead and take care of things myself. I could hardly stand up, but I thought, “Oh, I can manage to get myself into the tub or I can go and just make a meal, go grab a yogurt or something.” But my husband called a Christian Science nurse for me! Calling for help from a Christian Science nurse meant that I had the help that I needed to do the things I needed to do and focus on my work with the practitioner. I was able to focus on God and have a full recovery.
Having meals brought in, and assistance with movement and walking and getting comfortable at night, was what I needed. Christian Science nurses have wonderful ideas to help you to be comfortable and to get a sense of peace so that you can focus on what’s spiritually true and listen to God. Don’t wait until you’re discouraged. Call right away.
I will say that whenever I would get discouraged or be having a really hard time, the Christian Science nurse would point my thought upward. It was like having a calm and steadfast cheerleader there. It really did keep my thought focused on what was true. And I think that was really pivotal for me in the healing. As I mentioned, I had a full recovery.
So I would say for church members that are hesitant, don’t let personal sense keep you from something that would contribute to your freedom. Christian Science nurses do have their phones on at night. I do. We are ready! And we look forward to those calls, because we know that we’re going to see the healing. It is really being that spiritual witness.
I love that. I’m just thinking of something from Second Corinthians: “Now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want” (8:14). It brings home the fact that it is a ministry. So can we take some time now just to talk about what training is like?
When you’re new to the depths of this ministry, there’s nothing more supportive and eye-opening than working alongside more seasoned Christian Science nurses who teach from their own practice and experience. There’s really such a lot to learn, and the training is important for those who want to answer calls for care. In the variety of training programs now available, there’s a classroom portion and a side-by-side mentoring portion at each level of the training.
This applies to everything from providing light assistance to giving full care and of course caring for needs that require great discernment and skill. Even those who’ve had long experience in caring for others have gained so much from having training. It ensures that our representation in the world will have a high standard. Christianscience.com and the Journal Directory listing Christian Science nursing facilities are good resources to find out more.
That seems like a good way to look into it.
Yes. There was a Christian Science nurse at my own church. And when I was beginning to take interest in going for training, I asked if we could have lunch. She shared so much with me about her ministry and what it all entailed.
There are organizations that have a variety of ways you can inquire and begin to take steps towards learning more about Christian Science nursing. That might include a summer internship involving volunteering or being hired to help in other capacities that just enable you to have a window into the work. You could always audit a class if you feel like you’re not really sure.
We also have the Christian Science Nursing Youth Service Corps, where you learn while you serve. This is an opportunity for youth to work in different capacities at a Christian Science facility and learn to appreciate all aspects of a facility through the lens of Christian Science nursing.
If you’re in a country where there’s not a facility or where English isn’t spoken, there are still options. There is information on christianscience.com and also on JSH-Online.com in the Journal Directory, and in the Journal in print. Going to a facility to be trained isn’t the only option. Someone can work with you and give you classes and support you with some mentoring in the cases that are coming to you in your community, wherever you are.
I think many people feel that when you’re dealing with someone needing care, you realize how all the little things in life that you don’t think about suddenly become huge tasks in your head or almost monsters sort of bearing down on you. And so if the nurse can help to reverse that perception, that’s so healing.
Skilled musicians are a great analogy, because when they’re at their best level, they just feel the music and the music comes out. They’re mentally liberated just to let the music express itself. Similarly, the Christian Science nurse is mentally liberated to be spiritually embracing the case while still doing all the things that need to be done.
That really made me think of one more thing that is just so essential. People are always asking me, “Is Christian Science nursing more spiritual or more practical?” And really they’re one and the same—you can’t separate them in Christian Science nursing. The divine embraces the human at every point in our work. And it’s really that coincidence of the human and the divine, expressed in everyday things. This is what we practice and grow in. The practical aspect always springs from a deep and abiding relationship with God and a love for humanity.