I began my nursing home ministry as a diaconal ministry in 1998. It was to a group of people I enjoyed talking to and being around. I enjoyed my grandmother and grandfather a lot and I spent a great deal of time with them in my childhood and teen years. When my grandmother died at 93, she was the oldest active member of her church. She was always active at her church and taught Sunday School. She was a great evangelist and teacher for me.
So when I needed to find a way of expressing my call to the ministry, I began to seek a place to minister to people where there was a need I felt I could meet, and where I would not need specialized training to begin. My daughter Carrie, as a young teenager, used to ride her bicycle to visit a nursing home only about a mile away from our home, and would go to just talk to residents who “needed a visit.” I started thinking about a nursing home that I used to walk past on my way to HS. I thought about it a lot. I needed to have a place to do practical assignments as I studied with the Diocesan School for Ministry. I discussed it with my wife Pat, ad nauseam, until she finally said one day, “take your BCP and just go do it!” I did. And still do.
Many of these residents are people who have gone to church their entire lives and now are not able to go. Some are people who rarely attended church but now are facing serious health and spiritual issues, and are concerned about “what’s next” for them. Some are facing dementia of one type or another, and find comfort in experiencing regular and familiar worship in Evening Prayer. There are many who ask for prayer for healing, for family and friends, or who just want a blessing to end their day. I remember fondly two dear souls, Margaret and Betty, who wanted to attend my ordination to the diaconate in 2002. The nursing home made it possible by providing transportation and sending a nurse and an aide. They were thrilled to be there. The then Fr. Sean Rowe preached a great sermon. They were overwhelmed by Bishop Rowley’s personal greeting of them. They both lived another 5 or 6 years at the nursing home and reminisced about it a lot. They were two special people in my 15 to 20 person, ever changing congregation.
When I began this ministry, I took “genuine” donuts (from Dunkin Donuts) as this is yet another thing they miss out on in a nursing home. It’s “holey food.” (They get the humor.) In 1998, when I began this ministry, I referred to these residents as older people, but now, as I approach my 68th year on this earth, I just say it’s a ministry to mature adults! They need the gospel as much as any of God’s people. It’s a great ministry and I commend it to you. There are many nursing home opportunities. And yes, I still take “genuine” Dunkin’ Donuts each week.
The Rev. Richard Rowe, who currently serves at St. John’s, Franklin