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Faith holds steady in the face of pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic reached across the globe, Aberdeen Heights made a difficult decision to suspend in-person worship services at our community. During a challenging time that restricted outside visitors and normal opportunities to gather and socialize, faith, albeit in isolation, was a vital source of strength.

“Residents have felt isolated, bored, unable to access their own congregations’ services of worship if they are not tech-savvy,” said Chaplain Julie Berger. “No family events to anticipate with joy left residents feeling demoralized and in spiritual distress. Worship is an important source of socialization that they missed each week. That was a difficult time for me as chaplain, unable to provide direct support to residents and staff for a large portion of the community.”

To provide access to services, Berger and the activities crew found a way to use YouTube and closed circuit TV to broadcast worship services and weekly meditations. They also produced and distributed regular newsletters, which they used to validate the emotional and spiritual struggles everyone faced during the pandemic. Phone calls replaced in-person visits, and gifts of snacks with supportive notes reminded residents they weren’t alone.

“On Easter of 2020, when the pandemic’s reality was settling in, several of us on staff rounded the facility outdoors at sunrise, waving banners and exchanging alleluias,” Julie said. “Later in the spring, the marketing department organized an uplifting outdoor worship service with a local praise band, which was well-received by residents.”

While the efforts gave residents opportunities to engage with their faith, it simply wasn’t the same as in-person visits and services. Zoom meetings helped, but couldn’t reach residents who lacked experience with the technology.

During the summer, some of the gathering restrictions lifted, which allowed very limited in-person services in certain parts of the community.

“At the end of July, independent living worship resumed in person, with a maximum of 10 attendees in an altered format — no bulletins or hymnals, humming hymns instead of singing, and reduced responsive readings by worshipers,” Julie said. “Later in 2020, worship resumed in person within higher level of care with smaller groups.”

The services and the guidelines were adjusted based on the virus’ activity to reduce risk for residents and staff.

With services starting to return to somewhat normal, Julie can see that residents and staff not only appreciate the opportunity to worship in person alongside their friends, but they have appreciated the efforts to support them and keep them connected to the light of faith through the darkness.

“Because of the isolation of COVID-accelerated cognitive decline, worship and rituals, which would have been familiar and comforting, were absent,” Julie said. “Staff have been weary, covering additional shifts and dealing with extra steps and precautions to protect residents and themselves. Many have expressed gratitude for televised services and devotionals and have given us feedback that the poetry and prose in the newsletters have been meaningful and gave them hope. Staff, too, have said thanks for chaplain support, and The Glen residents show by their smiles, tapping feet and heartfelt ‘air’ passing of the peace that they are glad to be able to worship again.”

Now, at long last, there’s hope — and planning — for the in-person services that lie ahead, including a special Easter morning service that will include music from a hammered dulcimer player.

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