Most of us who are members of Hillcrest Baptist Church may sometimes think of “church” as what happens on our main campus at regular times. However, much of what we are really about as the local body we call Hillcrest happens as ministries that occur outside the walls of our buildings or at times other than our regular service hours. One of these ministries is the Hillcrest Nursing Home Ministry. It is a part of our Missions Ministry, under the direction of our Minister of Missions, Justin Smith.
Every Sunday morning, while most of us are in worship, Bible Study, or other activities on our main campus, as well as at other times during the week, dedicated volunteer servants from Hillcrest are leading inworship and Bible study for those living in care facilities in our area. The ministry is called the Hillcrest Nursing Home Ministry, but it also includes assisted living and independent senior living facilities. Presently, services are held regularly at six facilities: Crestview Court Skilled Nursing, Crescent Place Assisted Living, Crescent Point Independent Living, and Sterling House Assisted Living, all in Cedar Hill; Williamsburg Village Skilled Nursing in DeSoto; and Community Assisted Living in Grand Prairie. Because of these volunteers, each week several hundred people, mainly seniors who are unable to attend regular church services, as well as family members who may be with them, and sometimes their caregivers, have the opportunity to hear God’s Word taught, to sing, to pray together, and to fellowship with others.
Gary Pope oversees the Nursing Home Ministry. He coordinates all the activities, making sure things run smoothly, arranging for and recruiting speakers and leaders, providing a point of contact for questions or information, and leading in services himself as needed. He is assisted by Cathy Foshea, who schedules the speakers and leaders for all six locations.
Gary has served in nursing home ministries “off and on” through his entire adult life. He says that “it seems like it was always put in my path. Doors seemed to open.” Gary’s experience is not unique. There are those who have similar accounts of God calling them, even at a young age, to serve in various ways in a nursing home ministry. Others, however, are new to this ministry. Some of these have become aware of the need or felt God’s call to serve when a loved one became a resident of a care facility.
Gary points out that, in his experience, a nursing home ministry is really a threefold ministry. First, of course, it is a ministry to the residents of the facilities. Many of those who attend the services are Christians. Some are members of Hillcrest; most are not. But in the services, the Gospel can be presented clearly and the residents can be encouraged. Music is also a part of most services. In addition, there may be opportunities for individual ministry. Many of the residents have little or no contact with some of their family. This may include not only their children, but also grandchildren and other family members. So, in addition to the physical issues they all face, many experience loneliness or concern for family members. Those who serve can minister one-on-one, talking, listening, and praying with the residents, whether about their families or other concerns they may express. There may also be opportunities to share the Gospel, both through the services and individually, with those residents who do not have a relationship with Christ. So, the ministry can be a great blessing to those living in the facilities who are Christians and have been able to attend and be active in churches all their lives, but are no longer able to do so. But it can also be a ministry and an outreach to those residents who may be dealing with physical problems, or loneliness, or other problems, or who do not know Christ as Savior. As Gary says, the ministry “performs a great service” for the residents. “They’re not alone. It’s their church.”
But there is a second aspect to the Nursing Home Ministry. It can be a ministry to members of the residents’ families. Particularly in the nursing facilities, such as Crestview Court and Williamsburg Village, but sometimes also in the assisted living facilities, spouses, children, or other family members will often be with the residents. These family members may assist the residents in getting to the worship or Bible study services and then remain with them. For those family members who are Christians, the services provide an opportunity for worship or Bible study that they might otherwise not have while they care for their loved one. But, for those who may not be Christians, the services can provide the opportunity for them to hear the Word of God taught clearly and simply in a “non-threatening” setting. And, as with the residents themselves, there may be opportunities for individual ministry. But, whether it is in a one-on-one ministry, or in group worship, study, or fellowship, and whether the family members are Christian or non-Christian, the ministry can provide comfort and encouragement during what is always a difficult time for a family.
In addition to the residents and their family members, there is a third group to whom the Nursing Home Ministry can be a blessing: the caregivers and others who work in the facilities. In the skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, especially, the worship services are held in large main public rooms. There are reception areas, nurses’ stations, or other services in the same area, within sight and hearing. So, even if they are working and not actually attending the services, caregivers and employees will often be able to hear the messages and the music. Gary Pope relates an example from his own experience. As he was leading a service, he saw dining room servers in a back corner of the room rolling silverware into napkins and talking with each other. Later, he noticed that they had moved closer to him and had stopped talking as they continued their work. It is true in the Nursing Home Ministry just as it is true each time we share the Good News with someone in any environment: we may never know who may hear and be impacted.
A primary focus of the Nursing Home Ministry, at least in numbers of people impacted, is the Sunday morning worship service. The services at Crestview Court in Cedar Hill and at Williamsburg Village in DeSoto generally have the largest attendance of all the services the ministry coordinates. On a recent Sunday at Crestview Court, more than two dozen residents, in addition to several family members and facility employees working within hearing distance, were in attendance. Shortly before the service began, an invitation was broadcast over the PA system. But even before the announcement, a number of residents and family members had gathered in the room. More came after the announcement, and others came as the service proceeded. They all had the opportunity to sing a number of hymns before and after the message, to pray, and to hear a Scriptural message with an evangelistic emphasis at the end. Following the service, the sound of beautiful hymns played on the piano echoed through the building. The service was clearly a blessing to those who attended. One resident, Earlie Taylor, said “I like it. I’m here every Sunday, singing right along. It makes me feel better.” Another resident, Vera Shepherd, volunteered that she is 96 years old and has lived at Crestview Court for eight years. She, like others, was active in her church and in her Christian life. She said she has led in Bible study and had “always had a ministry. Can’t anymore”, she said. Based on her observations and insights, however, it is likely that she does still have a ministry. Those who serve in the Nursing Home Ministry can be a great encouragement to people like Mrs. Shepherd. As she said, “It’s not the same” as being in church, but “this helps. This is very important.”
Although the Sunday morning worship services may have the highest attendance, the Sunday morning and weekday Bible study services, often with smaller groups, are also a blessing to the residents at the facilities where they are held. Verna Evans and Louise Welch were among twelve residents who attended a recent Wednesday evening Bible study and devotional service at Crescent Point in Cedar Hill. The service included singing, prayer requests and prayer, and a Gospel message. Both ladies are members of other churches, and attend Sunday services at their churches when they have transportation, but are unable to drive to attend services regularly. Both expressed their appreciation for the Wednesday evening service. Mrs. Welch said, “We’re glad to have this. It makes our week go better.” Mrs. Evans said “It’s a wonderful thing. We have services we can go to and feel at ease and know God is present.”
So, who are the people who serve in this important ministry? They are people with a heart and gift for preaching or teaching, or for singing or playing the piano, or for ministry to seniors, or just for caring for those who cannot be a part of regular church activities but who need fellowship with Christian people. Some serve in a worship service or Bible study class at the same facility each week. Others may serve on a rotating basis at the same or at different facilities. Still others may come once each quarter. Gary, Cathy, and Bro. Justin all emphasize that they are thankful for all those who serve, but that more help is needed. “We have a great group”, Cathy says, “but we need additional help.” As Gary notes, “Even once a quarter would really be a help.” Having more people available would not only ensure that the needed leaders are always available for the presently scheduled services, but could also make possible an expansion of the ministry. Gary relates that administrators at the facilities have asked him for more services. One administrator would like to begin weekly men’s and women’s Bible studies. In addition, there are unmet needs at the facilities beyond the worship and Bible study times. One resident expressed the need for a chaplain, similar to those in hospitals, to be available to minister to the residents. “There are so many needs, so much sickness,” she said. “You can go to the Lord, but a person is important.”
Preaching or teaching from God’s Word is the central part of each service. Generally, most of the Bible study leaders bring messages that are about 20 to 30 minutes long. Gary notes that “You don’t have to be a great Bible scholar, just Biblically sound. And willing.” In addition to the preaching and teaching, however, music is also an important part of this ministry. Hearing and singing the great hymns of the faith is a great blessing and comfort, so having people to lead in singing and to accompany on piano contributes greatly to each service. Several of those who serve, as well as residents, have noted how much the music means to them. “They’ll sing as long as we’ll lead”, or similar expressions, were voiced by several leaders. Or, it may be that you have a heart for this important ministry, and feel God calling you to serve, but your gifts or talents are not in the areas needed to lead in preaching or teaching or music. Those who come simply to help with the services, to pass out songbooks, and to fellowship with the residents also perform a valuable ministry. Finally, there is also a need for help in Cathy Foshea’s area of responsibility in scheduling people to serve in the various activities and locations.
Whatever their area of service, all those who have a part in this ministry experience the blessing of serving the Lord through ministering to those who might otherwise have no opportunity for Christian worship, study, and fellowship. As Justin has expressed, it is a ministry to a group too often forgotten. And, the residents themselves are very appreciative. Several have expressed their gratitude for those who come to serve in any way. But, as is true for many areas of service to the Lord, those who serve are convinced that they receive a greater blessing than they give.
But, even if we don’t actively serve in the Nursing Home Ministry, we can still have a part. We can pray for all those who do serve. Prayer is an important part of this ministry. We can pray for all those who lead in the services week by week. We can pray for Gary, for Cathy, for Bro Justin, and for others who are part of the administration of this ministry. And, we can pray for all those in the care facilities who benefit from this ministry. We can pray that the residents, their families, their caregivers, and the employees of the facilities will be blessed and comforted and have needs met, and that those who are not Christians will come to know Christ as Savior.
Maybe God is calling you to the Nursing Home Ministry. If so, or if you just want to learn more, you can contact Gary Pope at (817) 851-6750 or Cathy Foshea at (972) 989-2894 or by emailing the Missions Ministry at [email protected].
As Jesus tells us, “…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40, NIV)