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Serving senior spirits

Churches reach out to those who can’t attend regular services

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The circle of senior citizens smiled as they sang "How Great Thou Art." Their voices weren't perfect. There wasn't any harmony, and pitches may have been a little off, but it was beautiful music. And those senior citizens were grateful to sing praises to their Lord.

Wheelchairs and walkers were welcome as Sim Lessley, director of the Southeast Christian Church worship services at Garden Terrace, an Alzheimer's care facility in Salt Lake City, played the guitar.

"The seniors appreciate it in different ways. You can see them connecting. They'll light up," said Connae Holmes, community liaison at Garden Terrace.

Members of the Southeast Christian Church of Salt Lake City have been worshipping with the residents of Garden Terrace for almost a year. They find that through serving and meeting with the senior residents, they can continue to show Jesus' love.

"These folks are people. They have spirits. We jumped at the chance to worship with them," Lessley said.

Churches along the Wasatch Front try to provide Christian service to all members of their congregations, and with a growing number of senior citizen members, leaders of different churches are bringing worship services to those who can't attend church.

Most assisted-living or nursing homes in the area have worship services on Sundays held by area churches.

The Cathedral of the Madeline, a Catholic church in Salt Lake City, brings the sacrament and spiritual messages on Sundays to Brighton Gardens, a new assisted-living facility in Salt Lake City.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also has wards at most facilities that meet on Sunday and have sacrament services and Sunday School.

Local churches also offer services to their senior citizen members who are unable to leave their homes to worship.

The Rev. Jeff Silliman of Mount Olympus Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake County said his church records one of its Sunday services on audiotape. The tape is duplicated and taken to senior members who are not able to attend on a long-term basis. The Rev. Silliman and other church members also bring communion to homebound members once a month.

Mary Taylor, a Murray resident and member of Mount Olympus Presbyterian Church, has received the taped ministries for 12 years.

"I really enjoy having it because otherwise if you can't go, you lose contact," she said.

Taylor also said she appreciates the love and concern the members of the church have for her. Although she lives with her daughter, church members call her regularly to make sure she's doing OK.

There is also a program called the Stephen Ministry. Some members of the Mount Olympus Presbyterian Church are trained as Stephen Ministers, who are commissioned as care givers to people with special needs. The Rev. Silliman said senior-citizen members of his church are often served by these ministers.

Annelle Larson, a Salt Lake resident, has attended Mount Olympus Presbyterian Church with her husband for 33 years. Both have had illnesses that prevent them from attending church and have benefitted from Stephen Ministers.

"They offer to do anything and everything. They give you theological help. They help steady you and work through your problems," she said.

Larson said she also enjoys the taped ministries and communion. "It's tremendous. I miss the fellowship, but it makes worship and communion personal when it's in your own home," she said.

Larson said she doesn't like to consider herself a shut-in, but that's what she is. The good part is that she doesn't feel "shut-out," she said.

The Grace Lutheran Church in Sandy videotapes worship services and sends the tapes to their senior and homebound members. "It's nice they can have that special time with their spouses to worship together," Cindy Sinclair, church secretary, said.

Sinclair said seniors who are unable to attend services also receive bulletins listing worship services and weekly announcements about Bible study, activities and other events happening within the congregation.

The pastors also make monthly visits to senior and homebound members, Sinclair said.

The Cathedral of the Madeline sponsors a Good Samaritan Program, which gives food, transportation and personal hygiene items to those in need.

Ray Martinez, assistant to the program, said many senior citizens are helped through the program with food, housing and assistance with medical services.

Martinez said members of the congregation also visit the senior citizen members in their homes and help them with errands.

E-mail: jcheney@desnews.com