In late March, when many churches stopped meeting and senior adults were advised to self-isolate due to the COVID-19 pandemic, regional directors at North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) heightened efforts to make contact with retired ministers – making 200 contacts in the first month.
NCBAM’s Servant Care outreach provides ministry services to pastors, music ministers, and missionaries (65+), including their spouses or surviving spouses. The outreach also offers fellowship and educational opportunities for participants through ENCORE programs and regional events.
“It’s such a blessing to connect with Servant Care participants,” said Charity Johnson who serves the southeast region. “It makes me feel God placed me in this ministry for a purpose. He’s equipped me with skills that I can give back and help take care of His pastors and His ministers who have dedicated their lives to God’s people. They have always put others first and now it’s time for us to put them first.”
Rev. H* is a participant whom Johnson calls regularly. After serving as a Baptist pastor for more than 50 years, Rev. H. was widowed in 2014. Now at age 87, failing eyesight makes cooking for himself difficult.
In addition to providing friendly calls and cards, Johnson also connected Rev. H. with a ministry at her church and now three home-cooked meals are delivered each week to his home. “It’s a blessing to help meet his needs,” said Johnson. “He is so grateful.”
Another of Johnson’s Servant Care participants is Rev. M*, a retired pastor and director of missions (now called associational mission strategists).
“In addition to calling, I also send notes. Rev. M. called me back in tears. He said the Bible verse I had included in my note was a blessing to him as he was just starting chemo treatments. It blessed me that God used me in that way. It wasn’t me. It was God using me to encourage someone,” Johnson said.
Social isolation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic greatly heightened the loneliness many Servant Care participants were already experiencing, according to Johnson.
“With not being able to attend church or even see family, their only human contact each week might be wearing a mask and going to the grocery store at 6 a.m.,” she said. “Many are in need of prayer right now and of someone just to talk to. It’s such a blessing to connect with these people of God.”
Samantha Allred, north central regional director, sees a common thread among the Servant Care participants she connects with. “I’m so glad we’re reaching out to them because I feel it is ten times harder for pastors and ministers to talk about their needs. They’re used to serving others; it takes pressing to discover what their needs might be.”
Allred says that blessing is hers when connecting with Servant Care participants. “Rev. B* was very grateful for my call but told me right away, ‘Don’t bother with me; call someone who needs it more.’ Now, he is most likely to initiate a call; he is graciously mentoring me as a young person in my first years of ministry work. He’s very encouraging and I appreciate the advice he’s offered me.”
Allred has also befriended Mrs. F*, an 86-year-old widow. “She is newly isolated because of the pandemic and takes seriously the recommendations to self-isolate. Her son delivers groceries and apart from doctor visits, she doesn’t leave home. We’ve bonded over sewing and quilting. She tells me about her projects and encourages me to take it up as a hobby. Every time we hang up she thanks me and says, ‘Please keep calling.’”
Allred had made regular visits to the home of Rev. and Mrs. P* since 2018 and now they communicate through cards and phone calls. “She recently told me, ‘Please keep your cards and letters coming. We get so excited when we see them.’”
Allred is grateful for the special relationships she has with Servant Care participants. “During times like this, small things can have the biggest impact. It blesses me to know I can make a difference through a simple phone call.”
Angie Gregg, west regional director, has been especially touched by widows she has connected with during the pandemic. “Mrs. C* is in her 90s and although still active, she’s very appreciative of the calls and loves to talk about her late husband’s pastorate and their lives in ministry. When I mentioned one of his accomplishments, she was so pleased and said, ‘Oh, you know about that?!’
Gregg had an especially poignant conversation with another widow, 91-year old Mrs. K*. “When I asked about her current church, she replied that she still attended the one where she had grown up and where her husband had served. She said that since they had stopped holding services due to the pandemic, she had not heard from anyone there.”
More than 700 individuals are included in NCBAM’s Servant Care outreach – with 64 new retired ministers added in June. Participation is not based on financial need.
Servant Care participants receive regular phone calls and birthday cards. Frail participants receive assessments by an NCBAM regional director. (In-home assessments are currently handled remotely.) NCBAM regional directors work with Baptist associations to confirm and share updated contact information for retired ministers.
NCBAM’s ministry director, Sandy Gregory, sees Servant Care as one of NCBAM’s most important outreaches.
“Many pastors join a new church when they retire and so the strong connections to the people who would be most eager to minister to them are lost,” said Gregory. “NCBAM is helping to fill the gap by giving Servant Care participants the love, honor, and care they so richly deserve.”