Jane Chandler on Morning Prayer at Nursing Homes
Residents of senior living facilities do not have to be Episcopalian to appreciate regular onsite morning prayer services. Your congregation could offer a similar ministry.
Jane Chandler serves on the vestry and is a eucharistic minister at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Montrose, Pennsylvania. Each week she and two friends offer morning prayer in a nursing home and an assisting living residence. In this edited conversation, she explains how they do it.
When and why did you start offering morning prayer at local rest homes?
We started bringing morning prayer to two places in 2015, when Father Paul Towers was still our rector. We had decided as a congregation that what we should be doing is ministering to older people in our church and community. Our congregation and our small town have a mostly older population. We used to have at least three people showing up for morning prayer at church. Father Paul suggested we bring it to where the people are.
How often do you do it, and who leads it?
We do morning prayer at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays at Meadow View, a nursing home in Montrose, and Wednesdays at Gracious Living Estates, an assisted living residence in South Montrose. Our rector retired, so Lynne Graham, Esther Welden and I do it together each time.
What’s the basic format?
We use what’s in the most recent Book of Common Prayer. Father Paul used to bring along enough copies of the prayer book for everyone to use. After he retired, we decided not to break our backs lugging books. Instead our church secretary and current priest typed out the things you repeat each day. We hand out those same sets at each place.
We bring along one prayer book, and one of us reads the Old Testament, New Testament and gospel readings. We also have a booklet with daily lectionary readings in the King James Version, which is the version everyone there used when they memorized Psalm 23 or other favorite passages.
Is music part of your morning prayer?
Yes, because music works best to engage the most people. Esther has perfect pitch; I sing in the church choir and Lynne has a decent voice too. Meadow View has a recording of hymns that people sing along with, like “In the Garden” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” At Gracious Living we sing from a set of 10 hymns we have on paper. We also do songs people request, such as “God Be with You Till We Meet Again” and “Amazing Grace.”
How do residents participate?
They sing. They read the prayers and words assigned to “Officiant and People.” Most people at Gracious Living can read and think clearly. At Mountain View, a few find it hard to read, some because they can’t see well. I understand that because I just had cataracts removed. We have large-print prayer books available for them. Not all residents read with us all the time, but when we get to parts they know by heart, like the Lord’s Prayer or a hymn, they participate.
When we come to the section where people may offer prayers of thanksgiving or prayers for other people, they mostly pray silently. Sometimes, though, a resident will speak up.
Who comes? Are they all from Episcopal churches?
For most residents, getting out to church or anywhere else is hard. Many use walkers or wheelchairs. We sometimes get 20 people at the nursing home and usually have 8 to 10 at assisted living. We usually have the same people, unless someone is a new resident or can’t be there because of a doctor appointment. Not many are Episcopalians, but Episcopal morning prayer will fit in just about any church tradition. It’s mostly reading Scripture, prayers and singing.
How long does it take? Why do you keep doing it?
It takes about a half hour or so. We try to talk with residents before and after, depending on how alert they are. Three ladies at Meadow View love doing adult coloring books, so we talk with them about the pictures.
Doing morning prayer is satisfying because we’re getting to know them. They like us and we like them. My husband, Ronald, died two years ago. He lived at Meadow View. At Meadow View, the staff person in charge also participates. At Gracious Living, staff members don’t stay for morning prayer, but they make sure to bring the people they know will like it.