You Have to Actively Love People
Imagine what it would be like to have attended, supported, and loved a church for years, only to be unable to attend near the end of your life, and even to be forgotten.
Around 2005, a parishioner of Grace Church, Middletown, began recording our services and either mailing or hand delivering CDs to our elderly and shut-in members. My mother was a recipient of these CDs, and they definitely brightened her week, kept her connected to her church, and made her feel cared for.
In 2009, Grace received a money donation from the family of a parishioner with whom we had stayed connected through his illness by visiting him and bringing him Communion. The vestry was discussing how best to use this money when the parish clerk timidly asked if she could speak. She told about her friend’s small Community Church in Massachusetts where they mailed cards to their senior and shut-in members and, at Christmas, delivered a fruit basket to each. The clerk wondered if we might do the same. It was decided to use half of the donation for this and, of course, the clerk was asked to head up the committee. No one realized it at the time, but our Senior/Homebound Ministry had just been born.
The first year, fruit baskets were lovingly delivered and the folks delivering were often invited in for a visit. There was only one mishap: a senior member who thought the delivery folks were unwelcome guests and didn’t go to the door found his fruit basket frozen on his doorstep the next day. He called to complain and was soon pouring out his frustrations on other issues as well: his pledge envelopes had never been sent and donations in his late wife’s name had not been used. And there was more. He was listened to carefully and all his issues were resolved. A lovely Communion kit was purchased in his wife’s name and he received a visit from the rector and a parishioner, bringing him Communion. When he died, his funeral was held at Grace.
More recently, the parishioner who had faithfully delivered the CDs got us signed up with Mixlr Live, so those at home could listen to the service in real time. That was great, but still, something was lacking; those at home could not see their beloved church, could not see the rector, could not see their friends and fellow congregants. Then along came Covid and most of us were at home. It was time for live Facebook services with our rector, the Rev. Victor Sarrazin, and a couple of servers and readers doing the service in the otherwise empty church.
At first, we dealt with technical issues because downtown Middletown was not completely wired for updated service. The connection was spotty—good in some places, bad in others—and we were in the “bad” section. It was frustrating and disappointing for everyone, from those at home to those trying to provide the service. Thanks to Father Victor, who pursued the issue with our internet provider, it was found that we were close to the updated area, but not quite there. We paid a fee and soon we were connected for modern times. We began to say, “Good morning” and “Peace be with You” and “Have a great week” electronically. And Mixlr Live is still an option as well.
The clerk sent cards to all the seniors and homebound for quite a few years before passing the baton to another faithful communicant. Soon, the church school took over sending some of the cards, and especially enjoyed making them. Fruit baskets changed to lilies and poinsettias and were delivered by the youth group. Our recipients loved having a visit from the kids.
There were unexpected benefits. Being remembered each month with a card has meant that our former members, who might have become disconnected from us, have stayed in touch and their final services have been held at Grace where otherwise they might have been held elsewhere, or not at all. Many have returned to be interred in our columbarium. Grace Church is their forever home.
The clerk of long ago, whose identity you may have guessed, is now a grateful recipient of the services of the senior/homebound ministry. The monthly cards mean so much and being able to watch the service from home is literally a godsend. I find myself examining the lovely woodwork, the stained-glass windows, the Christus Rex, the many, many organ pipes, all the things that are so familiar and so loved. I close my eyes to see how quickly I can identify the readers by their voices. I see my friends’ faces, and some of them wave to the camera. Although we are not back to full music and choir, we do have previously-recorded music and a solo or two each week.
One of our former wardens said it so well in his report at an annual meeting: “You have to actively love people.”