By Linda Harvey
For 13 years, Lillian Oliver has been going to nursing homes, individual homes, and hospitals, bringing Communion to the carebound. The encounters of the people she’s ministered to have indelibly changed her.
“I have grown deeper in my faith,” says Oliver.
Loneliness is a quiet health epidemic. It is a subjective symptom, not always observable. People at risk are the recently bereaved, the socially isolated, the severely disabled and the elderly who have suffered multiple losses. One of the primary interventions known to help is having a quality relationship with at least one other person.
Pope Francis has repeatedly emphasized the need to value the elderly, reach out to the sick and lonely and foster intergenerational friendships. He instituted World Day of Grandparents and Elderly, observed for the first time this past July. Two local efforts that live out this vision are Carebound Ministry at Good Shepherd Parish in Frankfort, of which Oliver is a part, and the Caring Place, a community ministry in Lexington.
Casting a net
The importance of their comprehensive Carebound Ministry became clear to parishioners at Good Shepherd several years ago when a parishioner died in a nursing home and the parish learned about it by reading her obituary in the newspaper.
“There was no funeral. We had taken her Communion and visited weekly, but she had no local family and no practicing Catholic family. There was no connection with the church as she went to be with God,” says Mary Ortwein, who leads this ministry. Surveying the demographics of the parish, it became clear that only a third of elderly parishioners had family nearby who could drive them to Mass if need be. The other two-thirds either didn’t have children or didn’t have children who lived nearby or were active in the parish.
“It convinced several of us of the need for an active Communion ministry that went beyond providing the Eucharist,” says Ortwein.
“Anyone bound for the need for care in their homes are also binding us to care for them. You have to cast the net and then pull them in,” says Father Charles Howell, pastor of Good Shepherd at the time. “Our data showed that the elderly keep the faith and needed a more intentional ministry and in-depth relationship. That can be obtained by sitting with them — listening to their joys, fears and needs.”
Ortwein has developed a four-hour curriculum over 10 years to train ministers and others participating in the program. The first two-hour training is about taking Communion to the sick and homebound. The second training covers how to use visitation as an opportunity to increase people’s faith and to bring people back to Church. In May, Bishop Stowe endorsed this ministry for parishes in the diocese.
“We often bring them news about parish happenings, provide them a bulletin from church, give them parish devotional books for Lent and Advent, among other things. This helps provide them a sense of belonging,” said Deacon Mike Lynch, who has taken Communion to the homebound and people in Frankfort nursing homes for several years.
“When a communicant, after receiving our Lord, is crying and says, ‘Thank you for bringing the Lord to me,’ it touches me way down deep in my heart,” says parishioner Pirkko Gantley. “I thank God for calling me to this ministry.”
Wider culture of care
Frankfort’s Carebound Ministry is not alone in terms of flourishing local outreach of its kind. A Caring Place, a nonprofit interfaith organization based at St. Martha’s Episcopal Church with Word of Hope Lutheran Church in Lexington, is all about intergenerational relationship building, particularly reaching out to the lonely and matching the person with a volunteer.
“We are not a church group. We are attentive to the spiritual component of helping another find meaning in their life,” says Roxanne Chaney, a co-founder of the organization and now chair of its board.
“We form friendships through our telephone buddy system, whereby frequent phone conversations with the same person over time form a loving and caring relationship,” says Chaney. “We also form friendships through our semi-weekly virtual welcome center socialization groups. Together, we participate in small groups over designated topics to share information, exchange current news, laugh, talk and sometimes cry together.”
Friendships form through home visits with those who are socially isolated. Weekly movement therapy caters to those who are not mobile or have problems with balance or coordination, improving overall physical and mental health. And seniors themselves engage in their own outreach ministry. Ten elderly volunteers were matched as reading buddies with third-graders at Christ the King School.
“We are always looking for dedicated individuals to volunteer with our clientele,” says Chaney, “as a telephone buddy; a socializer in our welcome center … a card or letter writer; or being on our marketing or programming team,” Chaney explained. A Caring Place has also partnered with the Youth Movement Against Alzheimer’s, a national organization whose local chapter is based at the University of Kentucky. Between A Caring Place and students, they have 110 volunteers.
“We are looking for more to create a sense of belonging and unity-fostering and encouraging others,” says Chaney.
Encounters with Alzheimer’s individuals are also part of Good Shepherd’s Carebound Ministry. Lillian Oliver cites her own experience with a woman who could not remember Oliver’s name but could recite the Lord’s Prayer in its entirety.
“After receiving Jesus, she had joy in her eyes and a smile on her face,” says Oliver. “When she put her head against mine and said, ‘I love you,’ it brought tears to my eyes, and still does.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
on Good Shepherd’s comprehensive
Carebound Ministry, contact Mary Ortwein
at (859) 806-4484 or email@example.com
FOR MORE INFORMATION
on A Caring Place, contact (859) 368-2656