There are 12,500 care homes in the UK and 50,000 churches who can make a difference for elderly residents.
Jesus said, in His parable of the sheep and the goats, that whatever we do for the least of His brothers and sisters, we do for Him.
The Message puts it like this: “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”
Overlooked and ignored: such an apt description of many care home residents. Did you know, research shows that older people in care homes are twice as likely to feel severely lonely as older people living in the community?
There are about 12,500 care homes for older people across the UK, and about 50,000 churches.
The Christian charity Embracing Age has a vision to see every care home adopted by a local church. Even if only one in four churches did this, together they could make a huge difference in the lives of some of the oldest people in our society.
Adopting a local care home is so much broader than running a monthly or fortnightly care home service, as wonderful as these are.
Traditionally, this has usually been the extent of a church’s involvement in their local care home, often with a frustrating lack of volunteers to help.
But most of this activity stopped over the pandemic anyway, and has been slow to restart. Perhaps it’s time to expand the vision of what care home ministry might look like.
Embracing Age suggests a number of other tried and tested ways a church can adopt their local care home, including:
Writing cards and letters to residents, or children drawing pictures.
Thank you gift bags for care home staff.
Trained volunteers befriending individual residents.
Christmas gifts to residents without family or visitors.
Knitted aquariums (yes, really!) or other craft creations.
Making small pot plant growing kits for residents or delivering flower bouquets.
Helping residents to connect digitally.
You can read more about these ideas and others in a free booklet available to download from the Embracing Age website.
Billingshurst Family Church answered the call to adopt their local care home and also a local Assisted Living Complex, just before the pandemic hit.
Although this scuppered their plans for volunteers to visit individual residents, they were able to keep in touch with cards and phone calls as well as helping with gardening, planting herbs and summer flowers.
They organised for children from a local school to make Christmas cards for each resident, and presented staff with hand cream, chocolate and mince pies.
When restrictions were lifted, volunteers were able to start visiting residents again, with one volunteer delighting residents with visits from her dog and another taking her young children in too.
Sue Gatland, who has championed this initiative at Billinghurst Family Church writes, “Our BFC volunteers love visiting our local seniors and adopting our local care home. Embracing Age supports us well with training, advice and resources. Visiting is so rewarding! The residents are always pleased to have a visitor and have interesting stories to tell us. Visiting is flexible and volunteers go in to the home at a time to suit their other commitments.”
At 85, Susan had dementia and diabetes which resulted in her needing care in a nursing home. She didn’t like participating in the activities offered by the home, and had no family or friends visiting her.
She spent most days just sitting in her room, or wandering the corridors alone. A volunteer began visiting Susan and, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, began to piece together glimpses of her life story, as they chatted together.
She found out that Susan loved nature, and whilst her dementia meant that she was often too anxious to go down in the lift to the garden, the volunteer was able to bring in photos of local parks that Susan had frequented, which brought back happy memories.
At the end of her visits, Susan would often say, “Thank you so much for coming to see me, it’s so nice to have someone to talk to.”
Susan loved poetry, and as her speech deteriorated the volunteer was able to read Susan’s favourite poems to her. Despite her dementia, she was often able to join in with the last lines.
The volunteer created a life story book for Susan, including her favourite poetry and pictures, so that the staff could use it between visits. One member of staff had tears in her eyes as she read it, saying to the volunteer that she had no idea about Susan’s life story.
Just one hour a week of this volunteer’s time made the difference between Susan feeling cared about or having no visitors at all, between being known and unknown.
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to reflect His unconditional love, to show the value and worth that He places on individuals regardless of their age, health and status in life. As we reach out to care home residents, the world can see the authenticity of our faith in action, and we’ll hear the whisper of Jesus, “Whatever you did for someone overlooked and ignored – that was me, you did it for me.”
You can find out more about adopting a care home by visited the dedicated page on the Embracing Age website.
Tina English is the founder and director of the Christian charity Embracing Age. She is the author of 'A Great Place to Grow Old: Reimagining Ministry amongst Older People' and volunteers in a local care home.
This article was first published on the EAUK website and re-published with permission.