Deaconess Profiles: Older Adult Ministry
According to Deaconess Debbie Pittman, "Older adult ministry is a ministry of 'being with.'" More than a dozen deaconesses and home missioners are engaged in ministries with older adults, living the call to love, justice and service. They are helping those they are with realize their full human potential regardless of whatever physical or mental limitations may be present. In the stories of these three deaconesses and one deaconess candidate, we are reminded of the importance for our older adults to have caregivers, visitors, assistants, advocates and-above all-friends.
Celebrating her 30th year as a deaconess, Deaconess Judy Poole continues to answer God's call to ministries with older adults. She first felt God's call in high school and began asking, "God, can you really use me?" After several years of struggling with this question and searching for the best way to live out the answer, Judy found the deaconess relationship through United Methodist Women. In learning about deaconess ministries of love, justice and service, she felt a strong connection through her sense of call. "Answering this lifetime call is where I found my niche, my place of peace."
Today she serves as executive director of the McCoy Adult Day Care Center in Birmingham, Ala. The center provides high quality on-site programming for clients and support for caregivers aimed at improving quality of life and maintaining the highest level of independent functioning. Clients come to the center often uncertain of what they may find there or even if they would enjoy being there. Within days they are interacting with others, sharing abilities with others, eating well and feeling better. "What a blessing to serve these who are the bridge that brought us to today," Ms. Poole reflects.
Tuning in to Brooks-Howell Home's community-access television station has never been a more enjoyable experience. When Ms. Pittman arrived at this retirement community for United Methodist missionaries and deaconesses in Asheville, N.C., the community-access channel ran on outdated technology and was difficult to read and awkward to keep current. Under her leadership, the new Channel 56 utilizes computer-controlled broadcasting that shares photos of residents and timely announcements, and it can also stream live programming from the community and beyond. "All of these tasks keep me inspired by learning new skills to help keep older adult residents engaged in current issues such as creation care and human trafficking, worship and community building." Ms. Pittman's transformation of Channel 56 has not only kept the residents of Brooks-Howell informed but has strengthened their bond as a community.
Serving at Brooks-Howell is another phase in Ms. Pittman's lifelong journey of answering God's call. In many ways, the gifts and skills she developed in her previous ministries has prepared her for being in ministry with this strong spiritual community of retired missionaries, home missionaries and deaconesses. "I have always been interested in technology. I have also always been the child who sat at the feet of older family members absorbing their stories and experiences," she recalls. These gifts and her experiences as a deaconess and former church and community worker shape her current ministry of assisting with computer technology and training residents how to utilize new technologies in their ministries. "And yes," Ms. Pittman clarifies, "the residents of Brooks-Howell continue to have ministries even though they are 'retired.'"
Through her experiences as activities coordinator at the Brooks-Howell Home in Asheville, N.C., Tracey Owens decided to answer God's call to be in lifetime relationship with The United Methodist Church and is currently a deaconess candidate. Although still needing to complete course requirements before becoming eligible for consecration and commissioning, Ms. Owens is already engaged in a ministry of love, justice and service with the residents here. Her sense of call to be in ministry with older adults is particularly linked to a nursing home community setting. She explains, "I want them to live their lives to their greatest potential, [and] I desire to be an advocate for residents' rights."
As activities coordinator, Ms. Owens leads classes and organizes events that enrich daily life and experiences for the residents of Brooks-Howell. She teaches weekly exercise classes and organizes crafting events, poetry readings and storytelling, hymn sings, and movie viewings, among other special events and activities. "The purpose of these activities is not to keep them busy but to develop their potential as human beings at this time in their lives."
Virginia E. "Ginny" Moore
Deaconess Ginny Moore grew up watching her mother engaged in volunteer mission work. This inspired her to consider missions and answer God's call to servant ministry. After serving as a US-2 and church and community worker, Ms. Moore was commissioned as a deaconess in 2002. Her deaconess ministry began as a social worker advising and counseling college students who were on welfare.
Since her retirement as a social worker in 2011, she continues to serve as a deaconess through her church, Thoburn United Methodist Church in St. Clairsville, Ohio. She is appointed as parish visitor and program associate for laity ministries. "As parish visitor I have had the chance to get to know more people and get involved in their lives. I am enjoying this ministry." Ms. Moore recently discovered that a deaconess played an influential role in the life of a 93-year-old shut-in she visits. Without that deaconess's love and encouragement, she would not have gone to college and eventually become a school administrator.
Myka Kennedy Stephens is a deaconess and independent information professional serving in the Northern Illinois Annual Conference. Her current projects include public communications consulting for the United Methodist Women Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner and developing the field of information ministries through