Beyond Casseroles: Caring Committees That Work

By Donald E. Skinner

The Caring Committee at the UU Church of the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel, CA (234 members), once sandbagged a member's house to protect it from a flood. Last year it secretly delivered 31 Easter baskets to people who needed a boost. Another time it weeded an elderly woman's garden.

Caring committees can be the heart of our congregations. Once limited to the delivery of meals and visits to convalescent centers, their scope has been broadened to include innovative services that let friends and members know they are valued.

The UU Church of Berkeley, CA (555), has a Care-Giving Team that meets twice a month. The meetings include worship, personal check-in, reports on visits to friends and members, and help in learning how to make calls. The group has found that first visits are easier if they are bearing bread or soup, says the Rev. Barbara Hamilton-Holway, cominister.

Great attention is also paid to the period of the Sunday service devoted to joys and concerns. After each service, members of the Committee on Parish Ministry offer a caring, listening presence to people who want to share sorrows. Notes are mailed to people who express joys and concerns. A professional social work counselor offers a grief support group on a weekday evening. Children and their parents also occasionally make gifts and deliver them to people who need a lift. "Families have spoken of how much they enjoyed making relationships between children and the people they visited," says Hamilton-Holway.

Other ways of caring:

  • Form small evensong and neighborhood groups to give people a small circle to be with in community. These groups offer time for personal sharing and provide support and comfort.
  • Send "You are Special" cards to children and adults who have done something of note, such as advancing in rank in scout organizations, getting a career promotion, or taking on or completing a church job. Make cards, stamps, etc., available at church.
  • Keep a calendar of significant sorrows, such as deaths of parents, and send "Thinking of You" notes on the one-year anniversary.
  • Anticipate events such as snowstorms and organize shovelers to help members in need.
  • Send small gifts to celebrate baby births. Give busy parents of young children an occasional night of free babysitting.
  • Coordinate with the Religious Education Committee in sending all RE parents a class roster for their children's classes and help them find ways to organize neighborhood play groups.
  • Be alert to the need for separate groups for parents of special-needs children so they can socialize and learn from each other.

Carol Collin, at Carmel, says the Caring Committee there hopes to expand its services to include providing meals, visits, transportation, child care, occasional light housekeeping, caregiver respite, and small household repairs. The committee also hopes to add a weekly meditation group and a new-member outreach program, coordinated with the membership committee.

"So far we have had excellent feedback and great results," says Collin. "For example, the woman with the flood waters was going through very difficult times and rarely attended church. She now has such a feeling of community that she is at church every Sunday and wants to be part of our committee. We want to increase the feeling of community, and we really think it is working."

About the Author

Donald E. Skinner

Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

For more information contact .