What’s our purpose if not to help others?
As God’s hands and feet in a troubled world, we are taught to help others in need. Within the walls of the church and even more importantly, outside the walls of the church, I believe we have an obligation to reach out and ease burdens. Covering the faith community for The Charlotte Observer and now working at Myers Park United Methodist Church, I’ve learned that there are hundreds of ways that individuals and congregations can help. One small, personal example: Whenever I learn of a church member losing a loved one, I make it a point to send a handwritten letter of condolence. I got this e-mail back from a man who had just lost his elderly father: “Thanks for the thoughtful note concerning the passing of my Dad. That note meant so much! The church has been awesome in their show of support and concern. It is clear that yours is a church that cares! God bless you!” Caring for older adults means that we recognize and actively address their unique needs and challenges. This involves insightful leadership, time and energy to provide this personal ministry. The rewards are many. But at the heart of everything we do in sharing God’s love with the elderly and their caregivers is the simple truth reflected in that letter from a grieving, appreciative son.
There are many ways for a church to extend themselves into the community to minister to those in need. If there’s someone hurting, there’s usually someone within the church family waiting and wanting to ease the pain. At countless houses of worship, clergy and lay volunteers regularly visit the hospitalized and homebound. A growing number of congregations are employing a parish nurse, when financially feasible, to bridge the gap for the elderly and others between doctor visits. Care teams made up of church members work on a more regular basis with those in need, whether it’s a young family with a newborn, someone just home from the hospital or a shut-in. Inspiration comes from relationships forged with those in need of care, especially in regards to seniors. As Leviticus 19:32 states – You shall rise before the aged, and defer to the old. There is so much that can be done. Some ministries are formed out of personal experience. One church member at Myers Park United Methodist who is adjusting to life as a widow formed a support group for others in her shoes. Caregivers Support Groups can offer a safe haven for comfort and conversation to those caring for a loved one. Stephen Ministers, a group of highly trained volunteers, are available to come beside people in need and do perhaps the most important thing a caregiver can do: listen. Walkers, wheelchairs and other medical equipment can be made available for short-term loan. Clergy and other staff can take turns visiting and hosting programs at local retirement communities. And so much more. It’s all good. And it’s all do-able for any house of worship no matter its size or affiliation. All it takes to get it going is a heart for the elderly, a few volunteers, and the understanding that love begins with the belief articulated in that simple letter to a grieving son.