Servants Among Us: Ministry to Caregivers
It has been described as "a heavy gift." Being a caregiver can be a rewarding privilege, but it brings challenges and conflicting emotions. The church can be an instrument of grace by supporting the unique needs of caregivers, providing a refuge within the family of faith.
Caregivers are those who have taken responsibility to care for a loved one. They may provide around-the-clock care for prolonged periods, perhaps even years. Even for those caregivers who are not present daily, there can be heavy demands.
Caregivers often must make financial and medical decisions for their loved one. They must change their daily routines and, often, put their career plans on hold. Caregivers may assume some of the expenses for their loved one's care, and the physical demands may leave them prone to illness and fatigue.
The emotional toll can be profound. Many caregivers experience guilt over unresolved or unspoken conflict among family members.
Maintaining important relationships, including a marriage, can become difficult with caregiving responsibilities. Caregivers are more than twice as likely to experience depression than others.
Caring for their spiritual health is vital, but caregivers' responsibilities make it easy to lose important connections to their church family.
Rick Gentzler of the General Board of Discipleship's Center on Aging says, "Every caregiver, at some point, feels a sense of aloneness and isolation. That is when the church must step in, providing spiritual richness with the intentional 'presence' of the congregation."
How can your church help?
• Keep caregivers involved. Deliver audio or videotapes of services to their home on a frequent basis.
• Excuse them from church responsibilities. Some caregivers may enjoy their church tasks as a welcome break from the role of caregiver, but offer them a graceful release from duties if they feel overwhelmed.
• Provide them with information. For medical conditions, gather resources that aid understanding of symptoms and treatment options. Research and share information about caregiver support groups, counseling opportunities or respite care options in your community.
• Invite them out of the house. Train volunteers to sit with the caregiver's loved one, so they may run personal errands or just have some time to themselves.
• Simplify daily chores or errands. Arrange for scheduled meal deliveries (disposable containers keep things easy for the caregiver). Offer to do routine housework.
• Offer spiritual nourishment. Bring devotional materials. Call frequently, and remind them that prayer supports them. Arrange for Holy Communion to be brought to them at home, at a time convenient for them.
Gentzler says, "The church must be more intentional in providing care-giving ministries, through compassion, love and a willingness to be faithful to the gospel."
--Whit Elam is an associate editor for Interpreter.
This story appears in the October 2004 issue of INTERPRETER Magazine.