A simple, easy program, but much appreciated, is to send cards to all members on their birthday, anniversary, birth, death, or illness. Cards can also be sent for special occasions graduations, publishing a book, or receiving an award. We send cards for joys shared during the Sunday service. We are beginning to collect a data base for significant birthdays (80) and anniversaries (50+) and weddings, funerals, and baby dedications done by our minister.
Cards are hand written and have a picture of our church on the front. We hope to have special cards printed with the logo of the Pastoral Care Team within the year. We currently send out 3-4 cards a week, but we clearly could do a lot more.
Meals and Transportation Program
Most people really appreciate a few meals at the time of an illness, birth, or death. In a small church the Pastoral Care Team might do them, but in a larger church, like ours, we contact the Neighborhood Care Teams. Another method would have a few select people do just meals which is a system we used before we reactivated our Neighborhoods. For long term needs of daily meals, we use Meals on Wheels or other community agencies.
Transportation is harder to provide because of the difficulty finding volunteers on weekdays. We try to get members to church on Sunday or to medical appointments, We have arranged to get people to radiation therapy or special medical treatments, which can be every day for up to six weeks. In a large church the Pastoral Care Team coordinates drivers rather doing the driving themselves. We also look for resources in our community foe transportation such as the Red Cross, Jewish Social Services, and local community programs. Most community services are for the indigent or those chronically disabled.
The Buddy System
The Buddy System matches up older members who live alone. Buddies call each other on alternate days to check-in and see how the other is doing. People usually do best when they choose their own buddy, but the Team can help with matching if necessary. The Team keeps track of emergency phone numbers for buddy pairs and serves as a backup if someone is concerned about their buddy.
Medical Equipment Loan Program
Members have donated to the church medical equipment such as walkers, canes, bedside commodes, guard rails for bed and tub, shower chairs, and crutches. The equipment is stored in the church attic and loaned out to members who need them. A member of the Pastoral Care Team monitors this loan program, This program is simple to carry out; its major requirement is space to store the equipment.
Visiting the Ill or Hospitalized
This program requires more time and training. Training needs to involve listening skills, behavior around sick people and procedures for visiting in a hospital setting. This program requires some Wariness of one's own limits such as being uncomfortable in hospitals, or with seriously ill people, or circumstances that can't be remedied immediately.
Our Pastoral Care Team visits people in the hospital and follows up with calls and visits when they return home. We frequently ask the Neighborhood Care Team to bring meals once someone is convalescing at home. We also try to support the family of the ill person particularly if the illness is serious, sometimes using a second Pastoral Care Team member. In addition to emotional support, the family member may also need meals, transportation, or respite when the hospitalized person comes home.
The Team provides someone to care for ill family members so that the caretaker may be Freed to attend church, medical appointments, or take care of their own needs. We have had several situations where we have provided respite care over long periods of time.
In one situation, we had six-eight volunteers a week caring for a baby for two-four hours at a time with esophageal ulcers, to allow the mother to get some rest and spend time with her three year old daughter. We continued this service for four months with a total of twenty-three volunteers from our church, The baby responded very well to all the loving caretakers.
In other circumstances we provided caretakers for a man with Alzheimer's so his wife could attend church twice a month. We coordinated caretakers for six-eight hours per day for one two weeks for people who can't be left alone when their caretaker needs to return to work.
In a more unusual situation we found two women in our congregation with an interest in art to take a middle aged woman with Alzheimer's to art museums once each month.
Visiting Members in Retirement Communities and Nursing Homes
Our Pastoral Care Team has tried to support several members of our congregation moving to retirement communities that are within reasonable proximity to our church. We have found that moving out of the longtime family home can be very stressful for elderly people. In the new retirement community we try to introduce them to other Unitarian Universalists, some from our own church community that are already there. We try to provide transportation for them to attend church regularly and to return for special church functions to stay in touch with old friends.
Members of the Pastoral Care Team visit members of our congregation in these retirement communities and /or nursing homes about once every one-two months and telephone between visits. For one member of our community who had a severely disabling stroke and is now in a nursing home, we organized members of our congregation to visit on a regularly scheduled basis so there would be ongoing visits from friends.
Dealing with Life Crises or Emotional Distress
We recommend that this program only be done by teams that have individuals with professional mental health training and experience. If a person calls who is going through a divorce or major life transition and wants support because they are extremely upset, they are triaged to one of three members of our Team who have mental health training. Sometimes a person will go to someone on the Team that they know, and will tell them of their depression or emotional difficulties. In such circumstances, someone with mental health training works very closely with that member to support them in their work with the upset person, or they are transferred to a more qualified member of the Team. We also support people who may go to our minister for counseling.
Time of Death and Bereavement
After researching information that is needed at the time of a death, our Team decided to put together a protocol to be followed when we are informed of a death of a church member.
During the initial phone call informing us of a death, we assess the emotional distress of the person calling the family supports available, the degree of preparedness of the person calling, and the circumstances of the death. We must quickly decide to either go in person or give information over the phone. In routine situations, where the person who died is elderly, or the death was expected, and the family member has supports we give information over the phone. If the caller is emotionally upset, unsupported, or unprepared, we go in person to provide information and support decision making When we give information we leave our phone number for further contact. We call the Neighborhood Care Teams to take meals and express condolences. We send a sympathy card and call back in 2-3 [weeks?] to see if we can offer any further help. We attend the Memorial Service.
We continue to follow the bereaved family for 12-18 months, particularly if the remaining family is a single spouse. We call or visit, and encourage the person who is now alone to re-enter the church community. We try to devise a plan to meet each individual's needs.
Although we have not had the experience of being called out to someone's home, as yet we plan that more than one member of the Team or a member of the Team and the minister would go together. in that way we can support each other.
Over the past six months we have collected information about funeral homes in our area, Crematories, cemeteries, burials at Arlington National Cemetery, donation of bodies to medical schools planning Memorial Services, writing obituaries, and getting started on the paper work for Probate. We think we are prepared to help both at the time of death and to support the bereaved person. We have not had a lot of opportunity to try out our skills.
As opposed to having any one person on call for this Program, the phone numbers for all members of the Team are published so that any member of the Team might be called.
We have collected information about many resources in our community. We help people find support groups or email addresses for information about specific medical topics, We have information about local retirement communities and specialized medical facilities, as nursing homes and Assisted living/Alzheimer units. We have forms for Living Wills and Advanced Medical Directives. We have information about hospices, the Hemlock Society, and Compassionate Friends. We have application forms to get a Lifeline, We know how to get in touch with our state's Memorial Society.
Although we have not had any educational seminars for the congregation to date, it is a worthwhile activity that a Pastoral Care Team might consider.