Not long after a new resident arrives at one of Episcopal Retirement Services’ retirement communities, a chaplain visits them. The clergy members don’t show up to push the Christian faith, but to offer a hospitable welcome. Despite the word “Episcopal” being the first word in the name, all faiths are welcome among residents and team members, as well as no faith at all.
So the chaplains visit simply to introduce themselves, and offer a friendly, listening ear when it’s needed.
The Rev. Lisa Tolliver makes those visits at the Episcopal Church Home campus in Louisville.
“We know that moving – anything that in any way pulls at somebody’s social support network and their physical surroundings – is a big deal,” Lisa said. “So for that, and many other reasons, we’re always there to greet people when they move in.”
Many interactions with residents after that
In Cincinnati, at the Deupree House and Marjorie P. Lee retirement campuses, the Rev. Angelo Puopolo and his deacon colleagues at ERS campuses have many of contacts with residents and their families, both religious and non-religious. He considers it an honor to be part of their lives.
Angelo’s favorite part of his job?
“The residents! That’s my favorite part,” said Angelo, who is celebrating 10 years with ERS.
“I’ll spend as much as an hour just sitting, and allowing people to talk about whatever they want to talk about,” he said. “But a lot of times, it’s just about history, about their family, or about their husband, their wife, about their children.”
Lisa and the other chaplains also look out for people of other faiths – including Islam, Buddhism, Judiasm, Catholic and protestant denominations – by reaching out to their faith communities, to see about religious services and visits, if those are desired.
One Buddhist resident a while ago was at the end of life, “and it had come upon them suddenly, so it was important to me that if they wanted the ministrations of specifically a Buddhist spiritual leader, that they’d be able to have one. I went out, and shook some trees, and got that,” she said. “That’s so important.”
Angelo adds: “We have a few people who are of a Jewish background. We went out and sought a rabbi. The rabbi comes periodically to visit them and offer his or her insights to them if they so request it. We’ve also got extraordinary priests who come from the Catholic church, and they bring Communion.” There also are Catholic Rosary services.
In Cincinnati, buses transport residents from the campuses to weekend Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic services in nearby Hyde Park churches.
Deacon Harvey Roberts after a service. Faith practice is a foundation of many people’s lives, so ERS wants to foster the diverse faiths of its residents, which helps create a strong sense of community. (Louisville photos courtesy of Susan Shockey)
Religious services that make many feel welcome
Of course, the chaplains lead religious services, usually on Sundays. Both Lisa and Angelo take pride in leading services that are comfortable for people of all Christian denominations, and people of other faiths.
Angelo leads three services on Sundays:
- 10 a.m. at Deupree House;
- 11:15 a.m. at Marjorie P. Lee; and
- 2 p.m. at Deupree Cottages.
At those services, “just a handful” who attend are Episcopalians, he said. “The rest are all of various denominations, from Catholicism all the way over to Baptist, and everything in between. We don’t miss a beat. And we don’t exclude, we always include.”
The Rev. Lisa Tolliver and Lynn McPherson at St. Luke's Chapel on the Episcopal Church Home campus. (Photo by Susan Shockey)
- Meanwhile, on the Episcopal Church Home campus in Louisville, Lisa leads services at St. Luke Chapel on Sundays at 10:30 a.m.
“Our service is not only open to everyone – meaning everyone can come – but it’s intentionally designed to make it easy for people of other denominations to join in, and to follow, and to feel included,” Lisa said.
The chaplains sometimes lead memorial services for residents, but also some for staff when asked. When a resident is dying or hospitalized, they are there if that is sought.
“If someone is dying, I’m there,” Angelo said. “I’ll do their requiem, their funeral.”
Bible studies and other things chaplains offer
The chaplains also offer various weekly programs, which may change by the seasons. They lead Bible studies and other religious or spiritual programs, such as during the Christian seasons of Advent and Lent.
Some programs are non-religious, or only slightly so, such as a group meeting Lisa recently led about faith and culture. Knowing many residents loved travel, she showed video clips of places around the world, which offered the residents opportunities to share their stories about travel, deepening the ties among them.
“The clips I selected would have some link in one way or another with faith, or with spirituality, or something like that,” she said.
Deacon Fred McGavran leads a Bible Study at Deupree House
At Marjorie P. Lee and Deupree House, Chaplains Fred McGavran and William Sangrey handle most of the teaching, including work with memory-care-techniques such as SAIDO and the Java Memory Care Program, and pastoral work among residents. Fred also does work with some of ERS’ Affordable Living communities.
"When someone’s passing away, we’re at the bedside ministering to them, and their families,” Angelo said. But the chaplains spend a lot of time visiting people in many other circumstances.
“My favorite thing about working here is the variety of ways I get to serve,” Lisa added. “Getting to serve as a traditional priest and pastor, in a way, on Sunday mornings, but getting to be a very deep part of our people’s lives is an incredible privilege. It’s an honor. They get to know you, and they invite you into their lives."
Deacon William made sure Roman Catholics on the Marjorie P. Lee campus received their faith's Communion during the COVID-19 lockdown, even when Catholic priests, like everybody else who didn't live or work there, couldn't enter the retirement community. William spent 2½ hours a day once a week administering the Eucharist to them. During Lent, he also ensured that Catholic residents were able to receive the sacrament of Confession. The residents were in a room inside, and spoke with a priest, who was outdoors, through an open window.
William also reached out to Rabbi Yair Walton of Jewish Family Service and K'vod Connect after a resident's family expressed concerns their loved one might fail to keep kosher. That issue was quickly and easily resolved, as it would be with any other dietary restrictions, William said. But as an offshoot of that conversation, Rabbi Walton since has given monthly presentations to residents, including about the Ten Commandments, which 30 attended, and the Jewish high holidays.
Two weeks after the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas launched missile attacks against Israel, Rabbi Walton during his monthly talk gave two dozen residents an hour-long history of conflicts between various Arabic groups and Israel. Those conflicts started not thousands of years ago, as many believe, but during the late 1800s, intensifying around World War I, he said, with a presentation supplemented by videos created by historians. And those wars haven't been over religion, but about land, he added.
"There's so many different layers and different players" involved in the conflicts, he said. "I don't know where this ends, or where we go from here."
Photo above: Rabbi Yair Walton gives a presentation about Hamas-Israeli war
All faiths invited
Faith practice is a significant part of many people’s lives and can become even more important as we grow older. At ERS, we want all residents, regardless of faith, to enjoy the health benefits of spirituality. A spiritual connection can boost seniors’ wellness, especially when their senior living community supports faith practices.
Will the idea of wellness of mind, body, and spirit be part of your decision when it comes to your choice for senior living? Download our Decision Guide for more tips and information.