Judith Allen Shelly, DMin, RN is the Prayer Ministry Coordinator at Christ Episcopal Church, Pottstown, PA, an ICH Board member, and the author of numerous books including Spiritual Care: A Guide for Caregivers. She helped start JCN and served as editor from 1990 to 2004.
Author declares no conflict of interest.
The Journal of Christian Nursing began in the hearts and minds of a small group of Christian nurses who came together for Nurses Christian Fellowship's first writer's conference in 1972. I had been editing NCF's bimonthly bulletin, the Nurse's Lamp, for several years and continually despaired over the quality and quantity of submitted content. I hoped the writer's conference would remedy the situation.
Those attending the conference represented a wide range of nursing experience, and they produced a collection of excellent articles. I had enough content for several years' worth of four-page Nurse's Lamp issues. The last session resulted in a spirited discussion of where do we go from here? There was strong consensus that the profession desperately needed a Christian nursing journal to provide a forum for issues such as spiritual care, ethics, and the influence of faith on nursing.
That discussion grew into a vision that caught the imagination of many nurses. However, in the face of financial and practical concerns, the vision lay dormant for 10 years. Finally, in 1982, Grace Wallace, then Director of NCF, told me, “If you can find an editor, I'll find the money for a journal.” I prayed and Ramona Cass came to mind. When I called, inviting her to consider the job, she asked if I knew that her first degree was in English (I didn't). She prayed, and shortly thereafter accepted the offer. Soon, Ramona and Grace raised funding, InterVarsity Press editor Linda Doll agreed to mentor Ramona, and the Journal of Christian Nursing was born in the Spring of 1984.
Ramona edited JCN through 1990. During her tenure, JCN won numerous awards for excellence from the Evangelical Press Association. Ramona set the bar high; replacing her would be difficult. I stepped in as editor “temporarily” and quickly became hooked. Editing JCN was an exercise in faith. I would prayerfully plan issues 2 years in advance. Themes came from our editorial advisory panel, readers, and the Spirit's nudging. Manuscripts arrived in the mail (and later, via email) addressing the planned themes just as they were needed. Amazingly, upon publication those topics turned out to be timely—addressing headline news issues in nursing and healthcare. It became clear to me that I was not the actual “editor-in-chief.” It intrigued me to watch what God would do with each issue.
Giving up JCN was one of the hardest things I ever did. I loved the concreteness of the task, being able to hold the magazine and say, “This is what God did!” I loved interacting with authors, learning from them and nurturing them as writers. Editing well required me to read the current nursing literature extensively and constantly reflect upon it theologically. However, by 2004 I knew God was calling me elsewhere, so I prayed about a new editor, and again a name kept popping into my head. Thankfully, Kathy Schoonover-Shoffner also felt nudged to say yes.
Under Kathy's wise leadership, JCN has grown and changed with the climate of nursing, but its purpose and focus remain steady. It continues to be a beacon of light, bringing faith, hope and perspective to Christian nurses. JCN challenges, informs, encourages, and supports Christian nurses personally and professionally.
I, too, have grown and changed. In retirement, I continue to focus on prayer and spiritual formation. I love seeing God at work in people as I lead retreats and train prayer ministers in my church. Interestingly, many of the other volunteers I meet are also nurses or healthcare professionals (most retired). We can retire from the professional context, but there is something about being a nurse, especially a Christian nurse, that shapes who we are.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul writes, “We were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.” He was probably talking about a different kind of nurse (i.e., a wet-nurse), but that sense of nurturing others in the name of Christ characterizes Christian nurses. I am grateful to entrust the future of nursing and the present generation of Christian nurses to God. May the Lord richly bless you as you serve Christ in nursing.