Prayer for nursing home residents

Residents of senior living facilities do not have to be Episcopalian to appreciate regular onsite morning prayer services. Your congregation could offer a similar ministry.

By: Jane Chandler, Joan Huyser-Honig

Jane Chandler serves on the vestry and is a eucharistic minister at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Montrose, Pennsylvania. Each week she and two friends offer morning prayer in a nursing home and an assisting living residence. In this edited conversation, she explains how they do it.

When and why did you start offering morning prayer at local rest homes?

We started bringing morning prayer to two places in 2015, when Father Paul Towers was still our rector. We had decided as a congregation that what we should be doing is ministering to older people in our church and community. Our congregation and our small town have a mostly older population. We used to have at least three people showing up for morning prayer at church. Father Paul suggested we bring it to where the people are.

How often do you do it, and who leads it?

We do morning prayer at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays at Meadow View, a nursing home in Montrose, and Wednesdays at Gracious Living Estates, an assisted living residence in South Montrose. Our rector retired, so Lynne Graham, Esther Welden and I do it together each time.

What’s the basic format?

We use what’s in the most recent Book of Common Prayer. Father Paul used to bring along enough copies of the prayer book for everyone to use. After he retired, we decided not to break our backs lugging books. Instead our church secretary and current priest typed out the things you repeat each day. We hand out those same sets at each place.

We bring along one prayer book, and one of us reads the Old Testament, New Testament and gospel readings. We also have a booklet with daily lectionary readings in the King James Version, which is the version everyone there used when they memorized Psalm 23 or other favorite passages.

Is music part of your morning prayer?

Yes, because music works best to engage the most people. Esther has perfect pitch; I sing in the church choir and Lynne has a decent voice too. Meadow View has a recording of hymns that people sing along with, like “In the Garden” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” At Gracious Living we sing from a set of 10 hymns we have on paper. We also do songs people request, such as “God Be with You Till We Meet Again” and “Amazing Grace.”

How do residents participate?

They sing. They read the prayers and words assigned to “Officiant and People.” Most people at Gracious Living can read and think clearly. At Mountain View, a few find it hard to read, some because they can’t see well. I understand that because I just had cataracts removed. We have large-print prayer books available for them. Not all residents read with us all the time, but when we get to parts they know by heart, like the Lord’s Prayer or a hymn, they participate.

When we come to the section where people may offer prayers of thanksgiving or prayers for other people, they mostly pray silently. Sometimes, though, a resident will speak up.

Who comes? Are they all from Episcopal churches?

For most residents, getting out to church or anywhere else is hard. Many use walkers or wheelchairs. We sometimes get 20 people at the nursing home and usually have 8 to 10 at assisted living. We usually have the same people, unless someone is a new resident or can’t be there because of a doctor appointment. Not many are Episcopalians, but Episcopal morning prayer will fit in just about any church tradition. It’s mostly reading Scripture, prayers and singing.

How long does it take? Why do you keep doing it?

It takes about a half hour or so. We try to talk with residents before and after, depending on how alert they are. Three ladies at Meadow View love doing adult coloring books, so we talk with them about the pictures.

Doing morning prayer is satisfying because we’re getting to know them. They like us and we like them. My husband, Ronald, died two years ago. He lived at Meadow View. At Meadow View, the staff person in charge also participates. At Gracious Living, staff members don’t stay for morning prayer, but they make sure to bring the people they know will like it.

LEARN MORE

Get more tips on leading worship in a nursing home. Read Dorothy Linthicum’s post on spiritual well-being for older adults.

Published: August 02, 2016 Resource Type: Conversation Category: Interdisciplinary Tags: dementia, elderly, inclusion, lectionary, praying the hours

Comments

worship.calvin.edu

“What’s wrong with just sitting there?” That was the question posed to me by my Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor. I presented a verbatim of visit with a patient who was conscious, but unable to speak. Discomfort doesn’t begin to describe my feelings. I’m a fixer and I thought my job as chaplain was to fix people, to help them process their circumstances and come to terms with their illness and loss; never mind how “off” that sounds, it was my perception of my responsibility at the time. But if someone can’t talk back, it’s hard to process. I was missing the ministry of presence: just be there.

Presence

Proclamation begins with presence, so just showing up is a big deal. That is a key to any nursing home ministry: just show up. People are hungry for a loving touch and an encouraging word. Show up and, when you’re there, don’t rush. Don’t be in a hurry to get the service going when you’ve been invited to lead worship and preach in a nursing home. Take some time to greet each person. Sit down and relax. Enjoy being with them. Simply being there, being present, probably makes the biggest impact for any nursing home outreach.

In my current ministry setting, our church is charged with serving two local nursing homes. We periodically take a team on a Sunday afternoon and sing and pray and preach. It’s a blessing to be with people so hungry for human interaction and to hear the Good News.

One point of connection is prayer. Ask for prayer concerns. When I first started doing this, I thought I would get mostly requests for personal health. I’ve been surprised, however, to hear people mostly requesting prayers for others. It’s been encouraging. Most residents don’t share requests, but the few who do generally want prayer for other residents and the staff. It’s been an opportunity for personal growth for me to see the unselfish nature of these precious persons whose ill health has taken so much from them, yet many are blessing others.

Encourage people from your church to join you. This ought to be a ministry of the people of God, not just their shepherd. I find that even though many Christians do not feel thoroughly equipped, they do have a desire to make a difference. When we in essence “hog” these ministry experiences for ourselves, we’re neglecting to offer an opportunity to experience the blessing of being a blessing. The presence of your church members multiplies the effectiveness of your nursing home ministry.

Comfort

Jesus said, “Come to me… I will give you rest…” (Matt. 11:28). Loss creates discomfort and pain. Nursing home residents often have lost a great deal before they arrived in that facility. Many are widows or widowers. Nearly all have lost a great number of friends. Some have lost family who are still living but rarely visit. A large percentage of residents suffer from depression due to their lack of mobility, self-determination, and declining health. Physical pain is a constant companion for a great deal of them. A large percentage of residents are medicated with psycho-active drugs to help ease their anxieties. Professionals strive to offer ideas to change the environments in which these people live twenty-four hours a day to lessen their need for medication. Our job in the nursing home is to proclaim the Good News. It is Good News that we serve a Lord who has suffered on our behalf and because of his suffering is able to join us in our suffering. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.

The Good News about Jesus offers comfort and your presence in the nursing home represents the presence of Christ. While you’re there, proclaim the constant, comforting presence of the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Challenge

We’re all commanded to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. Just because people may be old and infirm doesn’t mean they are unable to be a blessing to others. Every person needs to be challenged. Our presence in the nursing home, particularly our consistent presence over time, can give us an opportunity to use some of the relational capital we’ve built up to graciously challenge residents to grow in their faith and trust of God, to love others and treat them with dignity and respect, to be Christ’s representatives to other residents, guests, and staff members.

Another helpful challenge is the challenge to pray. Loneliness is one of the greatest challenges of many of the residents to whom you will speak. The follower of Jesus can commune with God at any time. We are never truly alone. The cultivation of a growing and vital prayer life serves as a boon to persons who desire a sense of companionship and the security it provides.

Nursing home ministry offers the preacher and opportunity to preach and demonstrate the Good News by providing a ministry of presence, using words and actions that communicate comfort, and gently challenging words of encouragement to love God and neighbor. When you have the opportunity to go, take fellow servants with you and you’ll be blessed as you provide a blessing to others.

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