We never outlive our need to grow spiritually and be part of a worshiping community. So how can we do "church" in nursing homes more effectively? This article focuses on developing a gift-based ministry and creating a worshipful environment.
Marlene F. Brands, Contract editor at Faith Alive Christian Resources
My 88-year-old mother has lived in a nursing home for almost four years. That's more than 200 Sundays! Frequently I ask, "Mom, did you go to church today?" Always she answers, "Oh, there's no church here." On several occasions I've attended the afternoon worship, and almost always I'd have to agree.
We never outlive our need to grow spiritually and to be part of a worshiping community. Yet all too often residents of nursing homes do not experience meaningful worship. Unless a staff chaplain is available, this ministry may be delegated to volunteers who may be unprepared to minister effectively.
So how can we do "church" in nursing homes more effectively? I'd like to focus on two areas: developing a gift-based ministry and creating a worshipful environment.
Here's an objective place to start: recognize that not everyone has the gift of ministering to the frail elderly. When you do that, you may be surprised at who does have that gift.
Be sure to include my eleven-year-old grandson, who has drafted a plan for a retirement village and who recognizes that "loneliness is a big problem." Add the soft-spoken fourteen-year-old boy who volunteers to serve coffee and cookies at my mother's nursing home. How about the retired high school principal and his wife who share programs from their 50th anniversary with each resident, whom they call by name? And then there's my uncle, who faithfully sends my mother devotions via e-mail.
This is a wonderful opportunity for intergenerational ministry. Look for those within your church family who show love and compassion for the elderly, and then:
Unless a nursing home has a chapel or other space dedicated exclusively to worship, creating a worshipful environment is vital. It's the sensory cue my mother and her peers, especially those who may struggle with dementia, need to recognize "church."
Think of the stimuli you experience as you first enter a familiar place of worship. Then bring these cues to the multipurpose space at a nursing home.
Use the following ways to engage residents the moment they approach the worship area:
So the team is in place; a worshipful environment has been created. Now what? The team will need information about the diverse characteristics and needs of the elderly in nursing homes and training to incorporate the key elements of worship into a brief service.
Meanwhile, imagine two hundred Sundays without church. While they long for heaven and home, the frail elderly need to experience "church here." Let's not neglect the gathering of these saints.
For more suggestions, see "How to . . . Lead Worship in a Rest Home" by Louis M. Tamminga (Reformed Worship 54).