Karen Anderson, Chaplain, Shannon Oaks/Clarendon Court (Baptist Housing), Vancouver, BC.
As a chaplain to seniors, loss and loneliness are a part of the culture. But during this time, those aspects of life have been severely compounded. All visitors, family and friends, paid companions, hairdressers, foot care nurses, and casual staff cannot enter our building. Each of these people had valued roles to fill in the lives of our residents. They are sorely missed. Adding to this, all our meals, which typically allow connecting with friends, are being delivered to residents’ rooms to maintain physical distancing. So, they eat alone. All activities are cancelled. There are no bus trips, no birthday teas, no chapel, no programming of any kind that would create a group. Going for a walk is encouraged, but going over to the market is not. Family gatherings cannot be attended. The fear surrounding the possibility of contracting the virus has to lead many of our residents to choose to never leave their suites.
Because of all of this, my role as a chaplain in this situation is hampered. Most of my everyday routines I am unable to do. Without group activities, I can no longer lead residents in hymn sings or gather them for chapel. How do I now bring some joy with singing, or teach them at chapel that they are not alone, that God is with them? Visiting them in the hospital when they are sick is curtailed. How can I be God’s hands and feet in this time? Funeral services that help to give closure for family and friends have to be postponed. In what way can I show God’s compassion to the grieving? Physical distancing removes my ability to simply offer a hug when someone is feeling down, or even hold a hand to reassure them that all will be well. But my role in sharing the love of God is needed more than ever. In this anxious time, to be able to share God’s peace would make all the difference. To bring God’s love to each team member and resident would show God’s solidarity with us. To be God’s representative and share his peace would bring hope. In this vastly different landscape, the challenge is how.
For each of us, the practical working out of that will be unique. I have to start by reminding myself of who God is. Psalm 46 has been foundational for me. Throughout Psalm 46, the steadfastness of God’s character is declared, “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.” Even though the world may seem like the mountains are falling into the sea, “the Lord Almighty is with us.” God is with us! We may be isolated, but we are not alone. In this, I find my hope and peace. It is from this perspective that I can find my way forward.
If I can’t gather people to share God’s word, I can write it out and print it for them to read. Some are enjoying it more that way as they get to go over it more than once. If we can’t join in for hymn sings, I can play hymns through our system on Sunday. If I can’t go to the hospital, I can send emails to let them know that they are not forgotten. I can still be present. I can deliver their meals with a smile behind my mask and in my eyes. From six feet away, I can pray, and bring their fears to the One who knows them. I can sit and listen. I can still journey with them through this time and share God’s love with them. This time is not forever, but God’s presence with us is.