No matter size or location, congregations need care




No matter their size or location, churches must care for people.

People can be in crisis for many reasons: divorce, the death of a loved one, a job loss or a move. Personal problems are in all shapes and sizes at all times. Showing care and concern is important, but not always easy.

Congregational Care Ministries (CCM) is a program aimed to empower lay people to work alongside their ministers. They perform services such as hospital visits, leading grief and divorce groups and even administering communion to home-bound people.

Concrete tools to make this happen have been spelled out in The Caring Congregation by the Rev. Karen Lampe. She spent 12 years as the executive pastor of Congregational Care for the 22,000-member Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, where Rev. Adam Hamilton is the senior pastor.

In March, First UMC of Ormond Beach and Coronado UMC in New Smyrna Beach joined forces to offer Lampe’s two-day workshop on caring. It was designed for their members and those from nearby churches to dive deep into the waters of CCM training.

“People need to feel cared for in church,” First UMC Pastor Scott Smith said.

It is a high priority of the United Methodist Church.

In her role as Florida Conference’s director of Congregational Care, Janet Earles works with churches of all sizes. She said when a church is small, it can usually attend to members effectively. It’s different when it grows to more than 100 members.

“It gets harder to do it without missing people,” she said.

There is also the idea of reaching others outside of the church in the community.

“Lay people who volunteer to work alongside ministers to provide quality care make it possible to go deeper and wider in caring for people,” Earles said.

Frank Johnston is a lay person and Congregational Care pastor who oversees 16 different caring ministries at First UMC Ormond Beach, where there are 843 members and a 2018 average weekly attendance of 518.

“We needed to get people under one umbrella to do the work of hospital visits, grief share, divorce care, shut-in visitation, Eucharistic ministry, hospitality and other tasks,” he said. “Organization is a big part of this push.”

The Caregivers' Day Out team.

Almost 100 people signed up for the workshop. Participants were commissioned as Congregational Care Ministers (CCMs) as part of the event.

The two churches pitched in with monetary resources and administrative talents to make the event affordable at $50, including materials and meals. Johnston said invitations were sent to 18 churches throughout the area.

The idea, he said, was to expand the mission and create “a new passion in a caring community.”

Rev. Peter Cottrell, the senior pastor at Coronado UMC, which has a membership of about 1,100 and a 2018 average weekly attendance of 430, said the lay caring initiative grew organically.

“Persons with passions who had expressed a desire to engage more deeply, were invited to be trained—we wanted to fit the best people in the places with unmet ministry needs,” he said.

Rev. Laura Berg, minister of Congregational Care at Coronado UMC, had attended Lampe’s workshops in Kansas, along with lay person Bobbi Wilson. They prayed and encouraged the workshop participants and led them to pray and trust God to lead them to use their gifts where the need was greatest.

“The pastor cannot do it alone, the work of providing care to church and community, so we had to do something,” Berg said. “And we had all these compassionate people with spiritual gifts that we thought would be great doing these jobs. We’re now tied together under one umbrella.”

Skills developed during the training included listening, visitation, organizing, comforting and boundaries.

Bobbi Wilson has been at Coronado for 16 years, previously serving as a Stephen Minister. She believes the workshop has already brought a focus to care.

“When I first went to Karen’s workshop, I got so excited that I couldn’t sleep,” she said.

Wilson helped administer the workshop and gave her testimony. Nine new CCMs will now help with providing congregational care. It will be important for volunteers to recognize their inspirations from God, she said.

Warm Spirits, the knitting ministry, makes and distributes prayer shawls to members in local hospitals.

Congregations are also caring for non-members in various ways.  Because of the opioid crisis in Florida, some churches are opening their sanctuaries and offering funeral services for people with no church affiliation.

“We can show them the love of Christ in a simple way,” Earles said.

Other ministries distribute prayer shawls in hospitals, not only to members, but also sometimes to their roommates. Some watch over the practical matters affecting aging members of the community who have no close family. These outreaches require knowledge, organization and sensitivity.

The workshop and the volunteers in March covered a lot of ground, so leader Karen Lampe helped sum up the work. 

“There is great scalability in this, so any sized church can use it to build community and empower lay people and create teamwork,” she said.

“But I always tell churches that in all things, they must pray first, to build prayer into their life. And they have to trust their gut and let the Holy Spirit lead them.”

The evaluation also is key, with team members taking things slowly and letting them build.

“There are so many needs, from cancer support, grief support, grandparents raising grandchildren, and churches can start by asking themselves, ‘How do we do this?’ Then do things on their scale,” Wilson said.

That can include hurricane and earthquake preparedness or ministering to the homeless in urban areas.

“I encourage people to dream big audacious dreams,” Lampe said. “They can take this wherever it goes in the lens of their setting.

“The key is to get the right people on the bus and train them and then let them take care of folks.” 

For more information, visit Lampe’s website:  https://thecaringcongregation.com

—Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.


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