“We haven’t seen them for a while!” “They never come to church anymore.” “Why did they stop coming?” The answer to that question pops up often on the ABLE Ministry UPCI Facebook page. The answer is different for many families, but the bottom line answer is always the same: because they can’t figure out a way to go to church and provide care for their loved one at the same time. Maybe their spouse is too ill to travel, maybe their child has a weakened immune system, or maybe their loved one is so disruptive that they are unable to be in the sanctuary.
What are the options for caregivers? None of them are ideal. They can have a family member stay home with their loved one while they go to church. This can be difficult if their family doesn’t live close to them. They can pay someone to either sit with their family member at home or attend church with them and care for them in the church building. Depending on the needs of their loved one, this can get expensive. If the family member has a significant medical issue, trained medical staff can be required, which is costly. Some states offer subsidies for care, but not all states provide these services.
Some families tag team each week-one parent taking the responsibility of caregiving while the other attends church. However, if one of the parents is used in leadership or ministry during the service, often the other takes a bigger share of the caregiving load.
If there is no other option than to stay home, caregivers often turn to online resources such as Revival Radio, My Hope Radio, or YouTube recordings to feel God’s presence. Larger churches offer online streaming of their services in real-time, which can help caregivers feel less alone. Some families have church services in their living room.
How can we help families who are in this situation? At times, expecting someone to ask for help or telling someone they need help can be tricky. Approach these conversations with grace and love. Often the caregiver already feels guilty because they have been missing church.
What can the church do? Notice when they aren’t there. Pray for them. Trust that the issue they are facing is hard enough they cannot find a solution. Understand. Reach out. Offer to Skype or Facetime the service. Send CDs or DVDs of the service. Drop off a gift or a meal at their home. Send a card. Often their loved one doesn’t need trained medical staff but simply needs someone to be on-call. Offer to sit with their loved one once a month. Offer to accommodate. If the parents say their child needs to be in another room with someone, trust them. Is there someone besides the parent who can assist?
Brainstorm with them in love. Caregivers are often sleep-deprived, hopeless, depressed, anxious, or stressed. Help them think out of the box. Is the issue with finances? Can the church supplement the cost once a month so the caregiver can come to church without worry? Is the issue that there are no family members that can help? Can a few church members rotate and offer to watch their loved one for them? Can someone watch their child at church even if it is in a Sunday school room with their favorite game?
Most importantly, love them when they are there. Sometimes love is displayed by holding back comments such as “I haven’t seen you in forever! Where have you been?” Perhaps a better comment might be, “I know things are difficult right now but I love seeing you when you can come. How are things going?”
For some families, most weeks are manageable, but then comes a change. Maybe it’s daylight savings time, a change in season, a change in type of clothing, or it’s holiday time which can be filled with anxiety and disruption. Maybe it is a time of transition-either back to school or back to summer. These changes in schedule and timing can affect people, especially those prone to anxiety.
What should we never do? Judge.
Lord, I pray that those who are home with loved ones this week feel Your presence. That You give them hope and peace and strength. That You send those who can show them Your love in a way that is unexpected and real.