Fayetteville church’s ministry maintains relationships with senior friends

A volunteer went to visit an elderly man one day. As they sat down and looked into each other’s eyes, the man said, “I thought the church had forgotten me.” 
In the words of Mother Theresa, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” If it gets caught up in perpetual activity, a church can lose track of the “cornerstones” of its organization. To alleviate that type of poverty, Sequoyah United Methodist Church Fayetteville began its Connections Ministry, offering hope and encouragement and a reminder that yes, those who cannot regularly attend worship are still valued members of Christ’s body. 
“Often, life circumstances prevent someone from attending worship and church activities. When this happens, there can be a real sense of loss of connection for that person and their church family,” said the Rev. Sara Pair, pastor of Sequoyah UMC. “The Connections ministry seeks to restore that connection and keep it strong.”
The ministry’s motivation stemmed from Deb McHaney Stogsdill’s memory of the joy and love that had been extended to her mother by Marmaduke United Methodist Church. Connections started with five Sequoyah UMC congregants who realized the church could facilitate and support a circle of caring and comfort with those who no longer attended services, but wanted to continue a relationship with the church. 
Connections extends that circle in a myriad of ways throughout the year—to Sequoyah UMC’s own members, as well as to church members’ parents living in nursing homes. Projects tend to focus on the church calendar, birthdays, major holidays and experiences that allow recipients to stay joined to Christ and their community of faith. 
Offering Holy Communion and delivering weekly worship bulletins are both integral parts of Connections. In addition, the team members know that showing love through something as basic as a Christmas or Valentine card, or a pumpkin during Halloween, can bring light to the darkest of places. The church youth get involved to help provide such gestures of caring.
“We have come to realize that showing up is only part of the process,” said Dave Clark, who is one of the 27 current participants in the Connections Ministry team. “We let God work out the finer details.”
Some examples of those finer details include doing a little something extra during a Connections visit. Household chores that may be simple tasks for a Connections team member might be impossible for the person they’re visiting.
“Who thought that turning a mattress or washing a car could keep the circle unbroken?” Clark asked.
The ministry welcomes new team members through a process that begins with current members sharing their experiences, giving new members a sense of what to expect, “which is usually the unexpected!” Clark says. After background checks are complete, new team members receive the Connections handbook, written by the original members. It includes a mission statement, guidelines and community resources. When that groundwork has been laid, team members volunteer for Connections assignments, allowing them to bond with others in their church family. 
Clark says that through Connections, he and others have been called to leave their comfort zones—and it’s a joy to accept that call. 
“In a world that constantly challenges our understanding of religious community and the importance of connecting to a larger idea of church, [by] bringing faith and hope into that world, we may find ourselves transformed along the way,” he said.
Another joy is to hear directly from those they visit about the difference Connections makes.
“Sometimes we feel a bit sorry for you all,” says one Connections recipient. “Sorry that you are not yet eligible to receive this loving attention—not old enough!”
And from another: “Here is a great big loving thank you for all the wonderful things you have done for us in recent months! There must be others who are more needy and more deserving, but surely no one is more grateful.”
To learn more about Sequoyah UMC’s Connections Ministry and how you might start something similar in your congregation, contact Deb Stogsdill: deb.stogsdill@gmail.com.