Responding to need in the community

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with His own blood.” – Acts 20:28

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Theresa, a Salvation Army officer, and also a Faith in Later Life Church Champion. Theresa is the newly appointed vicar for the Salvation Army Church in Swindon and, as she has completed six years in service, she now holds the rank of Captain. Theresa kindly took some time out of her busy schedule to speak to us about the work she is doing as part of the Salvation Army and how she is connecting with her new congregation during COVID.

The Salvation Army is a Christian church first and foremost, but they are also a registered charity. This means that Theresa is the minister of her church first, so she deals with all the things vicars deal with including working with organisations across the town supporting groups for the homeless, the elderly, the disabled, and children. In Theresa’s words, “we respond to a need as there is a need within the community we work.”

Theresa shared how she is fairly new to Swindon, having left her previous congregation and community behind in Taunton, to start up a new life in Swindon in July last year. So, she is still getting to know her new community and what their various needs are. She told us how “I pick up what people have done before me as well as what can be improved. We all have different skills and gifts that God gives us, so we all work slightly differently because we all have different life experiences and skills that we bring to the job. I am still getting to know what it is God wants us to do here particularly.”

Theresa has started her new position doing unprecedented times and, due to the Coronavirus and various government restrictions, all normal activities have been put on hold. She told us how, “we don’t have any of the mother or toddler groups, church worship, prayer meetings, or over sixties groups running because we aren’t allowed to meet with so many people.”

So, Theresa has been taking the time to get to know her new community by ringing each member of her congregation, as well as visiting people in their homes with doorstep or garden visits. She shared with us how these uncertain times have actually been a blessing to her in some ways because they have meant she has had the time and the opportunity to spend time with the older people in her congregation.

One of the most significant struggles Theresa has come across when talking to the older people in her community is that of loneliness. “Older people are just so lonely,” she shared with us, “I have been out this morning and visited a lady who has mental health issues, as well as a physical disability, and she said her cleaner came last week but that was the last time she had seen anybody.”

To help combat the loneliness in older people, Theresa has members of her church ringing other people on a regular basis. Talking about the lady above, Theresa said, “we now ring her twice a week to keep in touch. Just giving her someone to talk to a couple of times a week is what makes all the difference.”

In addition to phone calls, Theresa sends out a church newsletter every week to her members that includes a pause for thought, news from the congregation, and an activity. Each week, a selection of these newsletters is hand-delivered by a member of the congregation to ensure each person has had face-to-face contact with someone from the church at least once a month.

Theresa told us how “even a wave through the window was enough to show that I had made time to come and see them. I am doing what I can within the constraints of what I know and what the government advises. At the end of the day, it’s about relationship building, knowing who they are and remembering who they are that makes all the difference.”

Over the years of working in churches, Theresa has seen God move in so many remarkable ways. She loves watching how God encourages intergenerational love. One story Theresa shared with us was about an older lady in her congregation who was on her own after her husband had passed away. She was very lonely, and her confidence had shrunk significantly since she had been left alone. Seeing this, Theresa knew she could help.

Theresa spoke to a family in the church, a grandma who brought her grandchildren to the service every Sunday and asked if she would befriend this older lady. The grandma was much younger than this lady and was delighted to help. Soon enough, she had befriended the lady, as had her grandchildren. It didn’t take long for the mother to be introduced to the lady and invited her round for lunch. Now, she goes to their house every week for Sunday lunch and spends most weekends there as part of that family. Just being connected back in with a community and with people who loved her as she was helped pull this lady out of her loneliness and into God’s love.

Speaking with us, Theresa shared how she has found the best way to connect and empower older people is simply to listen. She shared how it is a privilege to sit down and hear peoples’ life stories.

They will share about getting married, raising a family, work adventures, travel, the war, all sorts of incredible things! And simply by sitting down and listening, you get to be a part of that and share in their wisdom. She told us how “it is a unique position to be in and one that is such a blessing.”

As it says in the Psalms, “the righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green.” – Psalm 92:12-14

We wonder if there are any ways you could listen to and support the older people in your community? For support and resources to help, why not invite a friend to join our community of Church Champions?