Divine Liturgy In A Nursing Home Setting

By Sister Elizabeth

0 God from my youth You have taught me
and I still proclaim Your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs
0 God do not forsake me,
till I proclaim Your might
to all the generations to come.
(Psalm 71:17-18)

The elderly and shut-ins often find themselves cut off from the full sacramental life of the Church. To offer a Divine Liturgy in the nursing home provides a real spiritual oasis and reinforces the faith of those living within. If you or your parish would like to begin ministry of this kind, here are a few guidelines to do so.

Contact the Care Center

It is of primary importance that contact be established with the care center nearest your parish, or perhaps the one with the most Orthodox residents listed in your area. It would facilitate the process if one person is designated from your parish to be the contact person. Make yourself known to the activities director of the nursing home. Many of these directors will make the time and effort to come to your parish and speak to your parishioners about how they could help those living in the nursing home. Arrange well in advance a mutually convenient date for your priest, your contact person, and the activities director to meet. Mid-morning seems to be the best time for most care centers.

Parish Involvement

Once the activities director, your priest, and your contact person have established the details for this ministry, your parish should be informed so that family, friends, and all others interested may participate. There are many specific tasks which must be done in this ministry. The center staff needs to know the name of those residents who would be attending the service, so that the necessary preparations can be made. In checking their files, the staff may discover other persons of Orthodox background who also could come to the service. Nearly all nursing homes have a room available for religious services and some kind of altar table. Some centers will bring the residents to this room. Others may not, and here is where parishioners may assist. Parishioners may also help during the service itself, by singing responses, and by assisting the residents whenever necessary.

Gear the Service to the Residents

Economy of time must be practiced regarding length of the service because the attention span of many of the elderly has diminished. Be sensitive to the limited mobility of the residents. Many will be in wheel chairs, and the priest will find it easier to go to the communicant when giving Communion. In addition to being limited physically, many patients may also be limited emotionally and mentally and spiritually. Their senses are not what they used to be, nor is their memory. The priest must exercise pastoral concern almost as with innocent children, not always expecting confessions or comprehension, as he normally would do with his parishioners.

Celebrating the Divine Liturgy in a nursing home will be a rewarding and touching experience for all involved, as well as a concrete, loving extension of the ministry of the Church to all those in need, wherever they are, and in whatever condition they might be.

Discussion Questions:

1. Is your parish ready for this kind of ministry? If so, follow the above steps, pray to God for guidance, and be flexible.

2. If there are no nursing homes in your area, what other institutions or organizations would benefit from involvement with your parish?

Sister Elizabeth is attached to the Diocesan Center of the Mid-West and is conducting a ministry to the sick and shut-ins of the Chicago Diocese.