Church ministry vows to keep people from being forgotten

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church ministry vows to keep people from being forgotten

Oct. 8, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0557}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

Jesus told a story of a woman who had a number of coins. When one coin fell through the floorboards the woman wasn’t content to keep just the ones she had. She went in search of the one that was lost.

East Lake United Methodist Church in Palm Harbor is just as determined not to let people who have fallen through the cracks be forgotten.

Members of East Lake United Methodist Church's caregiving ministry celebrate the birthday of an 84-year-old woman who is homebound. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Lois Rogers-Watson, Photo #06-444. Web photo only.

“A stab in the heart of a church occurs when someone is overlooked, particularly if that someone is ill, undergoing abundant stress, grieving,” the Rev. Lois Rogers-Watson said. “Some of us at East Lake United Methodist Church were aware that we had had far too many instances of people falling through the cracks, and we wanted to rectify that situation.”

And so they did. Rogers-Watson knew the church’s pastoral staff could not cover all the needs of East Lake’s growing congregation, so members began looking for a model that would eventually become a vital caregiving ministry at the church.

Heritage United Methodist Church had begun a similar program with the help of a grant from the Faith in Action arm of Florida Suncoast Hospice. When representatives of East Lake’s congregation met with Lee Savage, the original director of the Heritage church project, Savage encouraged them to adapt whatever they could of the Heritage program.

In January 2004 Rogers-Watson received an invitation to attend a Faith in Action meeting, where Savage shared the history of the Heritage ministry. Its model consists of several teams responsible for a variety of tasks. Volunteers are assigned to a team based on what they have the skills or desire to do. A paid coordinator oversees the teams.

“A steering committee was established, and in seven months they created and launched a caregiving ministry for East Lake UMC whose unwritten motto is ‘Let no one fall through the cracks!’ ” Rogers-Watson said.

Thirty-four people have been trained by Hospice for East Lake’s ministry, and about 105 people are currently caregivers. Whereas the Heritage church coordinators are paid, East Lake’s are volunteers.

“ … Right now we have fewer teams than Heritage, but we … plan to grow and are doing so,” Rogers-Watson said. “Heritage has a team that is made up solely of teenagers named the Extreme Team who have been trained by Hospice; our teenagers have not been trained, but it is our hope that they will in the future.”

Each of East Lake’s two caregiving teams also have meal/care basket, communion and transportation teams, a flower ministry and a prayer chain, according to Rogers-Watson. Each team has a team leader and is overseen by the coordinator who notifies the team leader when concerns need to be addressed.

The teams are responsible for making visits to homes, hospitals and nursing homes. They also make phone calls and send notes and cards. The flower team delivers the altar flowers to those “whose day will be brightened by receiving them,” Rogers-Watson says; the meal team prepares and delivers food as needed and fills care baskets with fruit, snacks and water for families who have loved ones in the hospital. The transportation team takes people to doctor appointments, the grocery story and therapy and to and from the airport, and the communion team takes communion to those who can’t make it to church. Trained Stephen Ministers are on each of the teams, and there’s a “Service In Motion Team” of 17 to 20 middle school youth.

To date Rogers-Watson says the ministry has logged more than 500 visits, 170 flower deliveries, 67 meal deliveries, 684 cards and notes written and 1,878 phone calls, among other services. The ministry has also provided a number of prayer blankets.
Carole St. Pierre says she will never forget the care and attention she and her family received. “I had the unfortunate circumstance of being sick for a rather lengthy period. My husband was working two jobs and covering mine as well. The first night that I saw the caregiving ministry at my door I was overwhelmed with gratitude,” she said. “To be on the receiving end is very humbling. … I could hardly wait to get better so that I could be there for someone else.”

Tena and Joe Donahey said they also felt blessed after Tena had surgery in April 2005. She was bedridden for several weeks, so the ministry went into action. “They promptly set up a group that provided us with absolutely wonderful dinners,” she said. “They came day after day, providing us with physical and spiritual nourishment. They let us know that our church family truly cared.”

Rogers-Watson says it’s not unusual for those who have received care to become caregivers themselves. Henny Oschmann falls into that category. After his shoulder surgery last October he says “many friends” from the caregiving ministry drove him wherever he needed to go. They stayed with him, brought food to him, took care of his dog, did the shopping, helped him bathe — the list is almost endless. “I appreciated and enjoyed the attention and am now convinced that ‘chicken soup does touch the soul,’ ” he said.

Oschmann had surgery again last February and said the caregivers were “there for me all over again.” “All this meant so much to me, but most of all the connection with the people of the church is what touched me most,” he added. “The visits from people I have never spent time with before, the prayers, the cards, the calls, the flowers. … I walk into church and feel a stronger sense of belonging, and I too want to reach out more.” 

The caregiving ministry's prayer blankets are placed on the altar at East Lake United Methodist Church for at least a week before they are given to recipients. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Lois Rogers-Watson, Photo #06-445. Web photo only.

Then there are the prayer blankets for people going through a crisis or experiencing a joyful event. Rogers-Watson says she borrowed the idea from First United Methodist Church in Hammond, Ind. “Wolf Manufacturing Company produces the blankets which can be purchased in lots of 24. ... They are fleece blankets with a small heart and the words ‘prayer blanket’ embroidered on one corner,” she said. “A woman in our church has a sophisticated sewing machine that does embroidery, and she has generously volunteered to embroider the recipient’s name on the blankets.”

Rogers-Watson says all a person has to do is fill out an order form and pay $10 to cover the cost of the blanket. Rogers-Watson takes care of getting it embroidered and then passes it along to the caregiving coordinator who prepares a card and a small gift of an angel to accompany the blanket. Once the embroidery is done the blanket goes back to the church and is placed on the altar for at least a week so members can “pray over” it. Either the giver picks up the blanket and delivers it or a pastor or caregiver will take it to the recipient.

Rogers-Watson said several blankets were ordered last Christmas as gifts and it’s rare to have a Sunday without a prayer blanket on the altar.

The church plans to increase the number of teams and caregivers, as well as training opportunities. The senior high youth director is also planning to involve the older teens.

Individuals interested in obtaining more information about the ministry may contact East Lake United Methodist Church at 727-784-9250.


This article relates to Nurture.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a freelance writer based in Beverly Hills, Fla. His columns appear in the Naples Sun Times newspaper and Faith & Tennis magazine.

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