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Taking the Gospel to COVID’s most vulnerable requires creativity and passion. Chaplains at Baptist Village Communities are finding ways to share the love of Jesus while keeping seniors safe.
The ministry of a chaplain is all about presence — being with those who are hurting, holding hands, giving hugs, serving alongside and gathering together with others. For 22 years, Chris Finley has thrived in this ministry, serving as the director of chaplain services at Baptist Village Communities. He’s used to going full speed, leading conferences, hosting Bible studies and training volunteers. Then COVID-19 hit and all those activities came to a screeching halt. Not only could he no longer host large group gatherings, he often couldn’t meet one on one with those who were suffering and needed a chaplain the most.
“There were days that the chaplains were cut off from everyone,” Finley says. “We couldn’t go to the nursing home, couldn’t go to assisted living, couldn’t go to residential living. We had to stay in the office. So, we all prayed, ‘Lord God, what do we do? You know our limitations. Please bring the opportunities to us.’ And He began to do that.”
As he relied on God for guidance, Finley saw the methods of chaplaincy changing as the pandemic developed. Where the ministry used to be based on events and gatherings, 2020 forced a shift in mindset, back to concentrating on the individual and reaching each one however possible.
It started with phone calls, he says. Every single resident across 12 campuses would get a weekly phone call. Chaplains would pray and sing hymns with residents over the phone, who were often in tears, grateful that someone called them. When residents could no longer eat in the dining halls, chaplains John and Ruth King at the Lake Texoma campus helped deliver meals to every resident.
“Each day we would wear different funny or old hats and some of the residents even gave us their hats to wear,” Ruth King says. “Since we could not meet together for weekly Bible study, John began writing a daily devotional that we gave to each resident at their door.”
Chaplains did porch or window visits when possible, led courtyard sing-alongs, delivered gifts and ran errands for residents. They also utilized video technology to broadcast worship services and sermons through the in-house, campus-wide TV station.
“The Word of God never changes,” Finley says. “It always comforts. Back in August, there was a resident that called me up. He got a funeral brochure in the mail, all about how to plan his funeral. It scared him. So, I went over with my mask and led him to the Lord. We baptized him here on our campus. That day I had prayed ‘Lord, I’ve got to do something.’ And the Lord sent that opportunity.”
FACE TIME – Chris Finley chats with BVC resident Larry Adams in a special outdoor tent set up to facilitate face-to-face visits with family and friends. Feelings of isolation and loneliness are common among seniors living through COVID, a truth which Finley and other BVC chaplains work hard to combat.
Another way the chaplains have been able to serve residents is by helping families stay connected, whether by texting pictures, helping with video calls or even coordinating safe visits. Chaplain Steve Williams from the Baptist Village of Owasso campus stays busy overseeing socially distanced visits in the campus’ outdoor, heated tent.
“The separation from their families has been very difficult and they long to be able to see them in person,” Williams says. “It isn’t perfect — they still have to wear masks, they still have to distance, and they still have to be screened before they can visit with the resident. But the families are just so elated that they can actually see grandma and talk to her and not have to just look at her through a window.”
If the pandemic has taught him anything, Finley says it’s a greater dependence on the Lord. He’s not sure they’ll ever go back to the old way of doing things, but he is certain God will continue using chaplains to reach and serve those around them.
“The Lord knew all about this. It’s not a limitation to Him,” he says. “A verse that keeps coming to mind is Isaiah 43:18-19. My paraphrase is ‘Do not remember the former things before COVID nor consider the old ways, the old things. But I will do a new thing amongst you. It will spring up. Do you not perceive it?’ In other words, ‘chaplain, don’t you get it?’ He’s doing something new here and we are finding new ways to serve.”
Creating a Place to Serve
Baptist Village Communities (BVC) is Oklahoma’s largest not-for-profit provider of senior housing services with a mission of “Serving God, Serving You, Serving Together.” BVC partners with faithful donors like you to enhance the lives of more than 2,300 people every day. Contact a WatersEdge giving expert today to maximize your gift’s impact.