Pastors Respond to Need for Worship in Senior Communities

Post a Comment » Written on June 10th, 2009     
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WHEATON, IL (June 10, 2009) – Because many residents of senior communities are unable to attend church, Rita Kay Lochner and Ruth Comfield bring church to them.

Since 2005, their Grace and Peace Chaplaincy has ministered to some 8,700 older adults in more than 30 senior residences, says Lochner, an ordained Evangelical Covenant Church minister.

Lochner started the ministry with another woman, Jean Spitzer, and they worked together for about three and a half years. Comfield, a graduate of North Park University, joined the ministry in 2008.

Chaplains“When I graduated from North Park Theological Seminary in 1997, I knew that I was called to chaplaincy,” Lochner says. “But I didn’t know how or when.”

She and her husband spent the next several years in Brazil, but returned in 2000. Lochner and Spitzer began praying about a joint ministry of word, sacrament and music with seniors, she says.

They started the ministry with a Churches Planting Ministries grant from the Central Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church, with Hinsdale Covenant Church the sponsoring congregation. Grace and Peace Chaplaincy also receives support from Covenant Ministries of Benevolence and three other Covenant churches – Villa Park Covenant, Naperville Covenant Church, and Parkwood Community Covenant Church.

“We started the ministry because we made a needs assessment with some 30 senior homes in DuPage County, talking to executive directors and activity directors,” Lochner says.

“We learned that Catholic residents in the senior homes were being well cared for and spiritually nurtured by priests, deacons, Eucharistic ministers, and lay people because geographically each home was in a Catholic parish area,” Lochner says. “We learned that the Protestant residents were falling between the cracks.”

Lochner adds, “They were not being well served with worship opportunities.” Some homes had no worship services for non-Catholics. At many others, Protestant ministers were not available or could not lead worship on a regular basis.

Lochner and Spitzer (accompanying photo) believed they could fill the gap as an itinerant team. “We began serving the most needy homes and adapted services to each home as needed,” Lochner says.

The ministry also has received assistance from volunteers. Last year, 13 musicians from 10 churches helped with services. Other volunteers have helped push wheelchairs, taught Bible studies, and worked on computer projects.

In addition to providing regular worship services, the ministry also offers hymn sings, Bible studies, funerals, baptisms and even weddings. The women conducted 170 “ministry events” in 1980 alone.

The women recently provided another unique service – they found a piano for one of the senior centers. Lochner and Comfield have conducted worship services at ManorCare of Westmont for several years, but the piano in the meeting room “on its last legs.”

Through a series of phone calls, Lochner found Cordogan’s Pianoland, which supplies Wheaton College with pianos. The store also donates used pianos to nonprofit groups.

It was the second time Grace and Peace Chaplaincy has helped find a piano for a home. For Lochner and Comfield, it is all part of another day of ministry.

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