In the Spring of 2021, Covid-19 restrictions eased slightly so a residential care home near Cardiff cautiously resumed their Sunday morning services for residents after an absence of many weeks. Their residents had been well cared for and protected from Covid-19, but isolated from visitors and I was their first speaker. Various precautions were taken before I was allowed to enter the main lounge: I had to arrive early, answer questions, complete a Track and Trace form, take a lateral flow Covid-19 test, wear a mask, plastic gloves and an apron. Waiting for the result, I talked with staff members, appreciating even more the enormous pressures they were under during the Covid-19 period. When my negative result was received, I was escorted to the main lounge where seventeen residents were present, including a staff member .
As I walked into the lounge, one male resident shouted out, ‘We have seen you on TV each week. You are famous!’ A lady on the other side of the lounge called out, ‘I saw you too on TV,’ and another shouted, ‘I enjoyed your TV programmes.’ It was a thrill to be with them again, a small number of whom are believers. Their joy having a visitor lead their Sunday service again was evident.
Had they seen me on TV? Not really. They were referring to the YouTube pre-recorded services I had been involved in preparing. As a church, we are responsible for conducting Sunday morning services in this care home for six months each year, a rota shared by about five members. Our involvement is part of a concern to care for and reach the elderly with the gospel. Before the pandemic, monthly mid-week services had been held in two other care homes in Cardiff.
When Covid-19 restrictions were imposed, I became more concerned for those in residential care homes, isolated from families, friends and church contacts. There were requests from residents for help but what could we do? Residents needed to hear the gospel. Talking over the possibilities with others, we began using Zoom to record specially designed services which could be uploaded to YouTube. Residents and staff had already shared with me that church services were long and often difficult to follow. They suggested that our service should be a maximum of 30-35 minutes and include only two or three familiar hymns. The format we chose was a short Bible reading with a prayer to begin and end the service, then I preached in two short sections, in between which I briefly interviewed a Christian or Christian couple with an interesting story. The reduced length of these services has been appreciated.
We made plenty of mistakes, for we were amateurs, and the quality of the recordings was variable. The first few services, though appreciated by residents, needed radical editing. I began with a brief series in Psalm 23 but all the talks needed to be engaging, illustrated and relevant with a clear gospel message. I then did a series in John 14 followed by Philippians chapter 1.
The residents enjoyed the interviews, as they heard of Christians facing difficulties, illness, bereavement and other challenges. Two younger ladies also shared their testimony, describing their work for the Lord. Occasionally one of the young ladies led the service before I preached and they were well received as the residents were mostly women. A total of 21 programmes were uploaded to YouTube under the title of God’s Amazing Love. Should we prepare more? No decision has been made yet, but it is better to be physically present with residents, if possible.
I am not a TV personality or a gifted producer but, despite all the defects, our joy is that the gospel was heard during the pandemic by elderly residents. We were regularly given their response to the services, with some giving suggestions and criticisms for improving them! Hardly any resident went to sleep during the services!
Paul Tench, a church elder, offered some of these services in DVD format to another care home near the church. For two and a half years, he had led a small team in holding a monthly mid-week service there until the lockdown. He was well known to them over a five year period and during Covid-19 had taken flowers regularly for the staff. Imagine our joy in receiving an email with a photo of residents sitting around a TV set in the lounge and watching one of our programmes!
There are about 280 residential and nursing care homes in Wales alone, each with a range of 25-80 beds, so here is a significant opportunity to express love, kindness and support to residents, staff and families. Care homes have had an extremely difficult and harrowing time during Covid-19 and are feeling isolated and forgotten. They continue to need our prayer and involvement.
Many elderly people, of course, live outside in the community, sometimes alone at home. The versatility of the series God’s Amazing Love, has surprised me. Christians have distributed DVDs to lonely elderly people in their home or watched it on YouTube with the person or couple, discussing it afterwards. The interviews in the programmes have generated more interest in the gospel while viewers in different age-groups and circumstances have discovered the programmes on YouTube, being drawn by their title. This is not a great success story but it is one expression of a burden for the elderly and others.
The series God’s Amazing Love is only a small aspect of our church’s outreach to the elderly in expressing compassion and care. Monthly lunches for the elderly, a weekly coffee morning, a care team aiming to be practically involved in encouraging and visiting needy folk as well as pastoral visits by members and church officers are all part of the care expressed. Much prayer is needed for this outreach but compassion and commitment are essential for sharing the gospel with these lovely people. Other churches are doing so much more in reaching the elderly and are more innovative. Perhaps their stories can also be shared. Do contact us and let us know what you are doing in this area. One thing is certain, the elderly, and other age groups too, urgently need the gospel and we have good news for them – yes, God’s Amazing Love!