Ministers conspicuous by their absence

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 15, 2004

God blesses those who bring joy to residents of assisted living facilities.

During the Christmas season and other special holidays, church groups, other organizations and individuals make big efforts to make nursing home resident feel loved and to put them in the holiday spirit. However, many feel that their ministers have forgotten them once they have taken residence in these homes.

My sister, Shirley Lee, and I visit the George Washington Health Care Center on George Washington and Military Highway often to see our father, James Lee, who is a resident there. When it doesn’t interfere with their working schedules, my son, Mark Wall, and other sister, Earlene Banks, ride with us.

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There is a visiting area in the front of the building and lounging area in the lobby. Many residents are always in these areas and as soon as we walk toward the front door and into the building, residents’ faces light up. The reason is that some of them said that they have adopted us as their family, too.

My eyes sometimes water because I know that those who say this seldom have anyone to visit them so we have made it a habit to go to other rooms to see those who have grown close to us and us to them.

Last Saturday two groups came in to spread Christmas cheer to these special people in the home’s large recreation room. Shirley and I were already in the room so we decided to stay to witness the program.

The first group, which included about four teen-agers and five adults, arrived at 1:30 p.m. and was scheduled to stay until 3 p.m. Nurses began wheeling residents in and some displayed sad and hopeless faces – eyes looking down toward the floor or even blank expressions. One teen-age girl turned on a radio that played Christmas music while others began setting up a table of ice cream, punch and Christmas cup cakes.

The girl then turned the radio off and a woman announced that they were going to sing a few Christmas Carols and that she was also going to tell the Christmas Story.

As they began to sing, faces and eyes lifted; those at tables began to pat the table; those who weren’t in wheelchairs began to pat their feet; and those who were in wheelchairs began to pat the arm of their chairs. I looked at my daddy and he was feeling for his harmonica in his left shirt pocket, whipped it out and began playing the carols along with the singing. As I began to look around, I saw many patients now interacting in their own special way and my eyes began to water with emotion.

After the Christmas story was told, refreshments were served and the children and adults passed out gifts to each resident. Pop played his instrument well but the next group took him by surprise.

It was now 3 p.m. and the Jerusalem United Holiness Church from Chesapeake entered the room with gift bags for everyone and candy canes. This group also was composed of about 20 adults and children. They were joined by a 14-year-old violin player. He played along with the singing and fascinated the crowd with an instrumental Christmas solo after a couple regular Christmas Carols had been sung. My daddy kept up with those well. However, for their last selection they chose a gospel Christmas song that they rocked and clapped to and with which my daddy was unfamiliar.

He looked at me and said, &uot;Now who in the world can play that stuff?&uot; Shirley and I laughed and he put his harmonica back in his pocket.

Following that program the teens in the group passed out candy canes to each resident along with a hug.

Two women then approached my daddy to tell him how much they enjoyed his playing. He always loves to receive compliments about his talent and couldn’t stop smiling.

I commend groups like these that take the time out to bring cheer to these people’s lives because this is one way that God works. However, one thing puzzles me tremendously – the lack of pastor visitations in these facilities.

They visit the hospital, hospice centers and personal homes of sick and shut-in members but many of them can’t seem to bring themselves to visit their members in nursing homes. Don’t get me wrong, church members love to see these people also, but they would also greatly appreciate looking into the faces of their ministers because they held them in high regard when they were able to attend their churches.

Since I have been visiting these homes for the past three years I have found that many residents say they wish they could see their ministers. They also feel that these men or women of God just don’t care about them after they are put away. Actually, one lady at a local home in Suffolk recently told me that when she dies she just wants the undertaker to take her to the cemetery because if her minister can’t come to see her in the nursing home while she is alive, she doesn’t want him to preach her funeral when she dies.

Many elderly church members grew up believing that their closest link to God is their pastor and feel that they are living in their last days. By talking to their pastor they feel more at peace that he took the time to visit and that he actually cares what happens to them.

Some ministers do visit the nursing homes and perform a complete and genuine service to all mankind. I want to say to these true servants of God, keep up the good work because you are spreading joy, hope and love to your members no matter who they are or where they are.

Can I get a witness?

Evelyn Wall is a former News-Herald reporter and regular columnist.