Dear Partners in Ministry,
An elderly woman sat in her wheelchair, a bare shadow of her former self. “Pastor,” she said, “the hardest part of all this is that I miss being at the church so very much. You know how involved I was and now I’m so removed. I used to know what was happening and enjoyed seeing everyone. Now, I don’t see anyone and I can’t tell you how I miss all of you.”
Every time I hear that lament, and I’ve heard it often over the years of my ministry, I think there has to be more that we can do to minister to our sisters and brothers who are homebound. One of the basic expectations of our God for all of us who call upon his name is to care for the “orphans and widows”. Orphans and widows are always mentioned in the Bible as representing those who are most defenseless and most economically at risk . In this day and age one of the most defenseless and economically at risk groups in our communities is the elderly. So many of our senior citizens are marginal financially. This is the second year that Social Security, that financial safety net for so many, will not provide a cost of living increase while health insurance premiums are rising along with most everything else. And all of our elderly who are confined at home or in hospitals and in nursing facilities are living in varying degrees of isolation from their faith families.
Most of our congregations keep in contact with our homebound members by sending newsletters and/or weekly bulletins to their homes. Some of them do something special at the holidays. There are a few members who make a point of trying to keep in touch. Meanwhile we pastors visit with communion and make ourselves available at times of difficulty and crisis. However, with 60+ shut-ins we can’t be the primary contact people for these parishioners. More ministry is needed.
As we have discussed this pastoral concern with various parishioners a few suggestions have emerged. One approach for offering more care to our confined brothers and sisters is for each of our shut-ins to have a sponsor within the congregation – someone who will keep in regular contact for support and fellowship while communicating any needs to the pastors and congregational leaders.
Another suggestion is to utilize the Lutheran church’s practice of lay distribution of Communion. This involves sending Communion from our worship services to the homebound with lay people trained specifically for this special ministry. This would be in addition to the visits by the pastors. Some of our congregations have already employed this lay ministry and would like to see it expanded.
As we move into a new year of ministry we will continue to discuss and then implement ways to improve our ministry to these matriarchs and patriarchs of our church families. Not only do they warrant our attention and concern but it is our Lord’s will that we care for them as our witness to the world that we do indeed love one another as he has loved us.
Grace and peace,
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773