FeaturesTop Stories

A Helping Hand

Bodies of faith assist senior congregants

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Jonathan Deibler

Whether you are looking to help older adults or you as an older adult could use some help, contact your local body of faith.

In recent decades, it has become routine to seek help from a paid agency, government organization or volunteer group. However, many congregations maintain ministries to assist older adults in numerous ways.

The pandemic halted groups’ interactions with older adults. Some pivoted to virtual assistance and some paused until COVID-19 subsided.

But as the pandemic wanes, many faith-based groups are getting back to their previous senior ministries.

St. Benedict Parish in Canandaigua offers Stephen Ministry for homebound people.

“It’s not counseling, but they can express their problems to someone who has no judgment,” said Mary Ellen Gysel, co-chairwoman of the church’s social ministry committee. “They can listen and if they choose, pray with that person. It can be anything they want to discuss like a death in the family or aging or illness.”

The ministry is intended to extend the church’s reach through trained laymen, as the priests and ministers tend to be stretched thin.

St. Benedict also offers a visitation ministry to facilitate parishioners calling on people who are sick and homebound to offer communion and prayer time.

In addition, “there are a lot of people within the parish who do those activities on their own and not through a formal ministry,” Gysel said.

This may include performing a minor home repair, assisting in running errands or offering a ride.

Stephen Ministry is also part of the ways in which Church of the Holy Spirit and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Penfield, sister congregations, help their congregants. Although it serves people of any age, lonesome seniors are often those who ask for a home visit.

Fran Glanton, Stephen Ministry leader, said that participants receive 50 hours of training before visiting people and also participate in continuing education.

“It helps people going through difficult times, like losing a spouse, having to move after losing a spouse and losing contact with family as they’ve moved away,” Glanton said.

The weekly visits are about an hour long.

“Some people say, ‘You’re the only people we talk with,’” Glanton said.

A friendly house call can help break up a week otherwise spent alone as well as provide a check-in to ensure the senior is doing alright.

“If we find that there is some type of help this person needs, we try to help them find help in the community or at church,” Glanton said. “A lot of times, it’s a big issue as you get older. A lot of the things you could do when you were younger, you’re not physically able to do it. There’s a great need for that type of service.”

The churches also take communion to parishioners and say a rosary with them if they are unable to make it to church.

St. John’s Lutheran Church, a small church in Victor, helps congregants with small home repairs and occasionally has offered more substantial assistance. Minister Jonathan Deibler said that in 2021, an older member needed major home repair, as her trailer was deteriorating.

“It was clear she needed to move out,” Deibler said.

The church helped with a few short-term repairs that enabled her to stay in her home for 18 months until she could make better arrangements. Then the church helped her move.

Deibler said that many instances like this were efforts of the church body but not necessarily of a formal committee or group.

“I’m seeing an authentic expression of their faith,” he said. “It’s an awareness of the needs of the people around them.”

St. John’s mails a paper copy of the weekly worship bulletin and sermon to homebound people. Some of those are able to connect to the worship service via Zoom. The church also provides rides for seniors and others who no longer drive.  The church’s prayer chain ministry quickly informs congregants of urgent prayer requests, which helps homebound older adults share their concerns and participate.

“People who can’t connect otherwise can still feel a part of the ministry in a meaningful way,” Deibler said.